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Is that Stress or Stroke?

By Dr PN Renjen
Last updated on: October 29, 2014 18:22 IST
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On the occasion of World Stroke Day, Dr PN Renjen, Senior Consultant -- Neurology, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, explains how to identify a stroke and offers tips to prevent one

Is that work stress or something more complicated?

Does that headache not feel right?

Could you be having a stroke?

Every stroke patient might have different symptoms; however, the symptoms of a stroke are very sudden.

What is a stroke?

Strokes occur due to problems with the blood supply to the brain; either the blood supply is blocked or a blood vessel within the brain ruptures. A stroke is a medical emergency, and treatment must be sought as quickly as possible.

There are three main kinds of stroke: ischemic strokes, hemorrhagic strokes and transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), also referred to as mini-strokes.

How is a stroke different from a heart attack/cardiac arrest?

A heart attack occurs when blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked, usually by a blood clot. Without oxygenated blood, the heart muscle begins to die. A stroke is a brain attack, cutting off vital blood flow and oxygen to the brain.

Heart attacks are almost always the result of progressive coronary artery disease (CAD). In CAD, the arteries that supply blood to the heart become choked with fatty deposits called plaque, which narrows and blocks arteries. The condition is called atherosclerosis. When pieces of plaque break free, blood clots can form, blocking the flow of blood to the heart. When that happens, the heart muscle does not get the oxygen and nutrients that it needs, and parts of the heart may become damaged or die. This is a heart attack.

When the blood supply to the brain is interrupted, causing a part of the brain to die, it is called a stroke, or "brain attack." A stroke requires immediate medical attention. Stroke is similar to a heart attack, but it affects the blood vessels in the brain instead of the heart.

The Warning Signs of a Stroke:

  • A terrible headache
  • Weakness on one side of your body
  • Trouble walking, talking, or understanding things
  • Vision loss in one or both eyes

At times, other health issues can mimic stroke symptoms. A high blood pressure can cause headaches, feelings of weakness, and vision problems. Hypertension is the major cause of stroke.

Chronic stress in life increases the risk of older people having a stroke or transient ischemic attack.

Understand your body and learn to differentiate between symptoms for stress/anxiety attacks, stroke or migraines.

Better understanding of important and potentially modifiable stroke risk factors, including stress and hypertension, is required given the aging population and increasing burden of stroke.

Preventive Tips for Stroke:

If you've had a stroke, preventing a second stroke is a top priority. The risk of a stroke is tenfold higher in someone who has had a stroke in the past.

Keep your blood pressure low since high blood pressure exerts continuous pressure on the walls of the arteries. If it is left untreated, it damages and weakens your arteries, making them more likely to clog or burst and cause a stroke.

Don’t smoke or expose yourself to second-hand smoke. Limit your calories and make exercise a daily habit. Know your risks – your age & your genes can put you at risk of stroke.

Photograph: Melissa Baldwin/Creative Commons

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Dr PN Renjen