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Stroke

Introduction

A stroke occurs if the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a portion of the brain is blocked.  Without oxygen, brain cells start to die after a few minutes.  Sudden bleeding in the brain also can cause a stroke if it damages brain cells.

Anatomy

A stroke can occur anywhere in the brain or just outside it.  The symptoms that a stroke victim experience depend on which area or areas of the brain that are involved.

Causes

The two main types of strokes are ischemic and hemorrhagic.  An ischemic stroke occurs if an artery that supplies oxygen-rich blood to the brain becomes blocked.  Blood clots often cause the blockages that lead to ischemic strokes.  A hemorrhagic stroke occurs if an artery in the brain leaks blood or ruptures.  The pressure from the leaked blood damages brain cells.  High blood pressure and aneurysms are examples of conditions that can cause hemorrhagic strokes.

Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of a stroke often develop quickly, however, in some cases they can develop over hours or days.  The type of symptoms depends on the type of stroke and the area of the brain that is affected.  Some symptoms of a stroke may include sudden weakness, paralysis, confusion, trouble speaking, trouble seeing, problems breathing, dizziness, and sudden and severe headache.

Diagnosis

Your physician will diagnose a stroke based on your signs and symptoms, your medical history, a physical exam, and test results.  He or she will want to find out the type of stroke you’ve had, its cause, the part of the brain that’s affected, and whether you have bleeding in the brain.

Treatment

Physical therapy can help restore physical functioning and skills like walking and range of movement. Your physical therapist can help you re-learn skills that are lost when part of the brain is damaged.  These skills can include coordinating leg movements in order to walk, or teaching you new ways of performing tasks to compensate for any residual disabilities.

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