"Stroke" is a the common term for an "acute cerebral infarction", which means injury with loss of neurons of the brain tissue. There are 2 main causes for stroke: the obstruction of one of the arteries that feeds blood to the brain and bleeding from blood vessels in the brain. Both situations are very serious and can lead to loss of brain cells, loss of physical or intellectual function and death.
The people who are at risk for stroke are diabetics, people with high blood pressure, smokers, obese and patients with high cholesterol. If someone already has had a stroke he or she has a higher risk to have another one. In addition, for an individual who has coronary artery disease or peripheral artery disease, there is an increased risk of stroke. Atrial fibrillation (AF; an irregular heart beat) increases the chances of stroke, that is the reason why many persons with AF have to take an anticoagulant (blood thinner). Finally, there are genetic conditions that can increase the risk of stroke. Examples of this are sickle cell disease and increased coagulation disorders such as Factor V Leyden.
Stroke can be a devastating condition for the individual and it is definitely a major public health problem1 due to the immense cost it represents. It accounts for approximately 320 billion dollars every year in healthcare direct and indirect expenditures2. The patient has to deal with loss of function, which could be physical (paralysis of arms, legs and/or face), and intellectual deficits like the loss memory and inability to speak. The recovery from stroke is usually slow and involves the use different levels of rehabilitation services.
1. Hankey GJ. StrokeHow Large a Public Health Problem, and How Can the Neurologist Help?. Arch Neurol. 1999;56(6):748-754.
2. Mozaffarian D, Benjamin EJ, Go AS, et al. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics-2016 Update: A Report From the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2016;133:e38-e360.
Marco A. Ramos MD