How Stroke Symptoms Affect Your Brain

Since strokes symptoms affect the brain they can have far-reaching effects on the body. Most strokes are caused by lifestyle choices that result in visceral obesity, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, peripheral vascular disease and multiple other types of bodily inflammation. With proper nutrition, exercise and stress reduction, most strokes can be avoided. Other factors that increase the risk of strokes include drug abuse, migraine, seizure, infection and trauma.

There are different types of strokes. An ischemic stroke occurs as a result of a blockage (either by blood clots or cholesterol) that prevents adequate blood supply to a portion of the brain. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel bursts in the brain. Some strokes are a combination of the two.

Stroke Symptoms

Stroke symptoms usually come on suddenly, and should always be treated as a medical emergency. They include a sudden onset of any of the following: weakness or numbness of the face, arm, and/or leg on one side of body; inability to understand spoken language; inability to speak; inability to write; vertigo and/or gait imbalance; double vision; and an unusually severe headache.

The symptoms of stroke begin suddenly because they are caused by an abrupt interruption of blood flow to an area of the brain. When this happens, it only takes a few seconds for that part of the brain to stop functioning. Only a small proportion of strokes produce headache symptoms. However, the sudden onset of a severe headache is a sign that doctors are trained to pay attention to, as it may signal that there is bleeding inside the brain. Because of the high risk of death in these cases, people who come into the emergency room complaining of a severe headache are rapidly screened for the presence of blood in the brain.

Whether or not the symptoms of a stroke will be permanent depends the how long the affected part of the brain remains without blood flow. While brief events of poor blood flow, or ischemia, lead to a complete recovery, longer events can leave permanent deficits.

Parts of the Brain Which Are Affected

The severity of stroke symptoms varies, depending on the part of the brain that is affected. For instance, strokes affecting portions of the brain which have minimal importance in day-to-day brain activity typically produce mild or unnoticeable symptoms. These are known as silent or mini-strokes. By contrast, strokes that affect areas of the brain which have maximal importance in day-to-day brain activity cause the most debilitating and noticeable symptoms.

For instance, strokes affecting an area of the brain connected to smell rarely cause identifiable symptoms. However, strokes affecting areas of the brain responsible for speech are nearly always identifiable. Many people will have multiple small, reversible changes that last a few minutes and then they will spontaneously recover. These are usually referred to as TIA (transient ischemic attacks). If these occur in silent areas of the brain, they may never be noted, except if a brain scan is done in the future and the area of brain loss is seen. People who have these silent strokes or mini-strokes are at a much higher likelihood of dementia or other brain damage diseases. That is why it is so important to realize that by making small changes in your lifestyle, you can avoid mini-strokes and more serious strokes.

Source: Harold P Adams, Jr. MD FAHA et al. Guidelines for the Early Management of Adults with Ischemic Stroke. Accessed on Published in Stroke, May 2007, pp. 1655"“1693.