When a person who is experiencing stroke symptoms first arrives at the hospital, he is given diagnostic tests to determine what type of stroke — ischemic or hemorrhagic — is occurring. This is critical because the treatments for different types of stroke are different.
Ischemic stroke. The most common type of stroke is an ischemic stroke (pronounced is-kee-mik), in which blood flow to the brain is cut off, commonly by a blood clot. Ischemic strokes are usually caused by atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty deposits in blood vessels.
To treat an ischemic stroke, a clot-busting medicine — called tPA, or tissue plasminogen activator — is administered to break up the clot that is blocking the flow of blood to the brain. This medicine can prevent or minimize disability from stroke if properly administered within three hours of the onset of symptoms. If the three-hour window has passed, other medicines may be used, such as aspirin or warfarin. The blood vessel blockage can also be removed surgically, or a stent can be inserted into the clogged artery.
Hemorrhagic stroke. A hemorrhagic stroke (pronounced he-me-ra-jik) occurs when a weakened blood vessel ruptures and spills blood into the surrounding brain tissue. Risk factors for hemorrhagic strokes include having high blood pressure or an aneurysm (a ballooning of a weakened artery).
A person having a hemorrhagic stroke may experience severe headache, nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, or coma. Hospital personnel will stabilize the person and monitor his condition. Medication can be given to relieve swelling and pressure on the brain, and a tube can be inserted into the aneurysm to ease severe pressure.
A person who is having a stroke often cannot help himself. That’s why it’s important for as many people as possible to know the signs and symptoms of stroke and to know to call for help as quickly as possible if they observe those signs or symptoms in another person.
Since diabetes puts you at increased risk of stroke, talk to the people you spend the most time with about that risk and about what they should do if they suspect you are having a stroke. Instruct them to call 9-1-1 immediately, even if they are not 100% sure you’re having a stroke. It’s better to go to the hospital for something that turns out not to be a stroke than to not go to the hospital for something that is.