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The #3 Killer: Stroke                                                 Heart Disease |  Cancer | Some of the causes

topdisease_stroke More than 150,000 Americans die of stroke each year, that's one-third of all those who suffer a stroke. Another third will be left with a permanent, severe disability.

Stroke is by far the most frightening of illnesses. Unlike Alzheimer's, where you would not recall any other way of being, if you suffer a stroke you would know the alteration in your brain and be aware of your diminished capabilities. You have a stroke and you either die or survive with a disability, perhaps lingering for years without being able to take care of yourself in the smallest way. It is the unpredictable outcome that is so frightening. Your risk?  One in five!


There are many different types of strokes. Many different results of damage. A spontaneous hemorrhage into the head is caused by either the rupture of small arteries deep within the brain or by the rupture an "aneurysm", a saclike dilatation caused by weakness of a portion of an artery wall. These strokes occur without warning, usually causing the most damage, and carry the greatest risk of death. My mother died this way.

If you experience a hemorrhage caused by the rupture of small blood vessels, it is most often related to long-standing high blood pressure. Usually this occurs in people over 50. More rare, and more dramatic than hypertensive hemorrhage is the rupture of aneurysms in the brain. Aneurysms are unpredictable, bringing death to more than half of their victims. These can occur at any age. My mother was under 50 years old.


topdisease_strokesIf you suffer a stroke caused by this hypertensive hemorrhage you will complain of a sudden and severe headache or perhaps a feeling of something odd going on inside your head. You may lose consciousness, even if only briefly. Typically within minutes, one side of your face may sag, your speech will become slurred, an arm or leg, or both, may weaken, or you may have a convulsion. The build up of blood in your brain increases pressure inside your skull. That increased pressure can by itself cause damage or loss of function and lead to mental confusion or loss of consciousness.

A stroke happens when a part of your brain is deprived of the constant supply of blood it needs, either temporarily or permanently. Blood flow to the brain is blocked. The extent of the damage, put simply, depends on which blood vessel is damaged affecting which part of your brain.

It takes only about 15 minutes at normal body temperature for a nerve cell, starved for blood by a stroke in the brain, to die. It cannot grow back. As nerve cells die they release a flood of neurotransmitters and other chemicals that can overwhelm perfectly healthy nerve cells nearby and lead to their death.


Men and women suffer strokes in nearly equal numbers but younger and older women have slightly more strokes than men of those ages, and middle-aged men have more strokes than middle-aged women.


CBC (Complete blood count)

This is a routine test to determine the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets in your blood.  Hematocrit and hemoglobin are measures of the number of red blood cells.  A complete blood count might be used to diagnose anemia (too little blood) or infection (shown by too many white blood cells).

Blood chemistry tests

These tests measure the levels of normal chemical substances in your blood.   The most important test in emergency stroke evaluation is glucose (or blood sugar), because levels of blood glucose which are too high or too low can cause symptoms which may be mistaken for stroke.   A fasting blood glucose is used to help in the diagnosis of diabetes, which is a risk factor for stroke. Other blood chemistry tests measure serum electrolytes, the normal ions in your blood (sodium, potassium, calcium) or check the function of your liver or kidneys.

Blood lipid tests

strokeCholesterol, total lipids, HDL, and LDL

Elevated cholesterol (particularly "bad" cholesterol, or LDL) is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.  Click here to learn more about cholesterol and cardiovascular risks from the National Institutes of Health.

CT scan (CAT Scan, Computed axial tomography)

CT scan uses x-rays to produce a 3-dimensional image of your head. A CT scan can be used to diagnose ischemic stroke, hemorrhagic stroke, and other problems of the brain and brainstem.

MRI scan (Magnetic resonance imaging, MR)

MR uses magnetic fields to produce a 3-dimensional image of your head. The MR scan shows the brain and spinal cord in more detail than CT. MR can be used to diagnose ischemic stroke, hemorrhagic stroke, and other problems involving the brain, brainstem, and spinal cord.

A diet rich in saturated fat and the wrong type of cholesterol increases your chance of having a stroke.

Thrombotic stroke is specifically fat-narrowed arteries leading to the brain.

This plaque is not all due to diet, but to avoid increasing your risk one should remain cautionary with their diet.

The risk factors for stroke are the same as for heart disease with the greatest of these being high blood pressure, which affects about one-third of our adult population.

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