What Is a Stroke?

According to the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, every year in the United States about 795,000 people will have a stroke. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel inside the brain breaks and bleeds, or when it becomes obstructed by a clot. Clots prevent blood and oxygen from reaching the brain’s tissues. Without oxygen, brain cells and tissues are damaged and begin to die within minutes.

There are three main categories of strokes: 

Transient ischemic attack (TIA)

Sometimes referred to as a "ministroke," a TIA happens when blood flow to the brain is temporarily blocked. The symptoms are similar to those of a full stroke, however, they can disappear after a few minutes or hours.

Ischemic stroke

When the arteries supplying blood to the brain become narrow or blocked, this is called an ischemic stroke. Ischemic strokes are typically caused by blood clots inside the brain, but this term can refer to any severe reduction in the brain’s blood flow.

Hemorrhagic stroke

When an artery in the brain breaks open or leaks blood, it is called a hemorrhagic stroke. The blood creates pressure in the skull and swells the brain, damaging brain tissues and cells.

While there is no way to know whether or not a person will have a stroke, there are risk factors that indicate the likelihood. Some of these, like genetics, age, gender, and ethnicity are out of our control. Patients who suffer from high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, or above normal weight, as well as those who have already suffered strokes in the past, are at a higher risk of future strokes. To reduce the risk of having a stroke, patients can avoid smoking or drinking too much alcohol, eat a balanced diet, and exercise regularly.

Stroke treatment is possible, however, time is an important factor in getting help. Receiving medical attention sooner makes a successful recovery much more likely, which is why it’s important to know the warning signs of a stroke, including how they differ depending on a person’s gender.

Early signs of stroke come on quickly and can include:

  • Weakness or numbness in the face, arms, or legs — typically on one side of the body
  • Confusion, trouble speaking, or lack of comprehension
  • Impaired vision in one or both eyes
  • Severe headache without cause
  • Trouble walking, loss of balance, or dizziness

Anyone can experience the above stroke symptoms, or any stroke symptoms for that matter, but some manifest more often in women than men, or vice-versa.

Signs of a stroke in women more often include:

  • Vomiting/nausea
  • Hallucination
  • Pain
  • General weakness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Fainting or losing consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Sudden behavior changes

Signs of a stroke in men more often include:

  • Dropping on one side of the face or an uneven smile
  • Slurred speech, difficulty speaking, and difficulty understanding speech
  • Arm or muscle weakness on one side of the body

What Are the Possible Complications from Having a Stroke?

Only 10 percent of stroke survivors make an almost-complete recovery, according to the National Stroke Association, while another 25 percent recover with only minor impairments. The American Heart Association reports that strokes reduce mobility in more than half the survivors over the age of 65. They are the leading cause of long-term disability in the United States.

There are many complications that can result from experiencing a stroke, including:

  • Localized paralysis
  • Difficulty eating or speaking
  • Memory or comprehension problems
  • Emotional changes, mood instability, extremity, intractability
  • Pain
  • Compromised ability for self-care

What to Expect from Stroke Recovery

Stroke recovery requires an interdisciplinary team of physicians, nurses, neurologists and therapists who create care plans tailored to the needs of individual patients.

Care plans may include:

  • Brain monitoring (onsite EEG and CT scanning)
  • Onsite surgical removal of hardware
  • Patient/family education regarding brain injury, stages of recovery, and the patient’s specific care plan
  • Special precautions to prevent deep vein thrombosis, stress ulcers, aspiration, infection, wounds, and falls
  • An environment supporting neurological recovery
  • Respiratory therapy, including ventilator weaning and tracheostomy management
  • Cardiac monitoring, including telemetry
  • Nutritional assessment and support
  • Rehabilitation, including physical, occupational, and speech therapies
  • Bowel and bladder training
  • Financial planning for extended care
  • Professional caregiver referrals

Our goal is to help our patients regain as much function as possible and recover to their highest potential before going home. For more on prevention, identification and recovery, check out this stroke blog post.

Success Spotlight: Charles' Story

On the Road to Recovery after a Stroke

Charles lived part-time in Guatemala and New Mexico and enjoyed good health until he developed a fever and headaches (early signs of a stroke) and was later found unconscious by his wife. He was rushed to the hospital where physicians determined he had suffered an acute embolic stroke, swelling of the brain, seizures, and an infection.

Physicians stabilized Charles’ condition, and he was transferred to Kindred Hospital for therapy and stroke rehabilitation. He was completely dependent on his team of caregivers for all his needs when he first arrived. The stroke had severely impaired his mobility, but right away he was placed in the “Move Early” program, designed to get patients up and out of bed. Charles was also disoriented and was having difficulty with comprehension and problem-solving skills, as a result of the damage to his brain.

A multidisciplinary team consisting of physicians, nurses, and physical, speech, and occupational therapists worked together to help Charles on his journey to recovery. With his wife at his side providing support, a positive outlook, and motivation, Charles began to make progress quickly and eagerly participated in all his therapy sessions.

By the time he was discharged from Kindred, Charles was walking with minimal assistance and a rolling walker. He was also well on his way to regaining his independence, able to perform his tasks of daily living with minimal to no assistance, and his cognition and communication skills had improved significantly as well

If your loved one has had a stroke, the sooner they begin rehabilitation, the better their chances are of recovering to their highest level of independence possible. Kindred offers personalized rehabilitation care across a variety of disciplines.

“In addition to their medical care, patients recovering from a stroke can receive specialized care provided by speech therapists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists,” says Dr. Dean French, Chief Medical Officer. Kindred’s rehabilitation services are coordinated with other staff based on each patient’s abilities.