Learn About Your Heart...
Made Simple

By Nicolas Shammas, MD

A new, comprehensive sourcebook for
heart and vascular disease patients

Cardiovascular Health Topics

Statistics about Heart and Blood Vessel Diseases in the United States
Structure and Function of the Heart and Blood Vessels
Diseases of the Blood Vessels of the Heart
Surgical Therapies for the Cardiovascular Patient
Peripheral Vascular Disease
Diseases of the Blood Vessels of the Head and Neck
Strokes: How to Survive Them and How to Prevent Them
Valvular Heart Disease
Heart Rhythms: How to Recognize Them and Treat Them
Congestive Heart Failure
11. Understanding Cardiomyopathy, or Weak Heart Muscle
12. Children and Heart Disease
13. Diseases of the Pericardium
14. Systemic Illnesses, Infections and Drugs that Affect the Heart
15. Erectile Dysfunction: a Vascular Disease
16. Cardiovascular Disease Prevention
17. Heart Healthy Nutritional Tips
18. Cardiac Rehabilitation
19. Medications for Cardiovascular Disorders
20. Heart Tests You Need to Know
21. Learn What to Do in a Medical Emergency
22. How to Choose Your Doctor and Hospital
23. Medical Research and How You Can Get Involved
24. Taking the Next Step — A Few Community Resources to Help You Live More Healthfully
25. How Much Did You Learn from This Book: Take a Simple Test


Vickie S. Takes, RTR

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States and the first leading cause of permanent disability in adults. Stroke is preventable and treatable, and the chances of having a severe disability can be reduced if people recognize the symptoms and act quickly.

What is a stroke?

A stroke is a sudden death of brain cells due to a blood vessel rupture or a blood vessel blocked by a blood clot. Because of this rupture or blockage, the brain does not get the blood and oxygen it needs. When this happens, the brain cells in the affected area cannot work and die within minutes. The effects of a severe stroke are often permanent because brain cells are not replaced.

There are 2 major types of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic. Ischemic stroke is caused by blood clots or other particles. Hemorrhagic stroke is caused by bleeding. Bleeding strokes have a much higher death rate. Ischemic stroke occurs more frequently than hemorrhagic stroke and accounts for approximately 70-80% of all strokes.

Ischemic stroke is a sudden reduction in blood flow to the brain. This occurs when a blood clot (thrombus) forms in an artery bringing blood to the brain. Blood clots form in arteries that are damaged by fatty cholesterol buildup, called atherosclerosis.

Cerebral thrombotic (blood clot) strokes occur often at night or early morning. They are also usually preceded by a transient ischemic attack (TIA).

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a short episode, less than 24 hours, of temporary impairment of the brain that is caused by a loss of blood supply. TIAs are often warnings of an impending stroke and must be immediately evaluated by a physician.

A moving clot (embolus) or some other particle that forms away from the brain (usually in the heart) can also cause an ischemic stroke. The clot moves in the bloodstream until it becomes lodged in an artery leading to the brain, again blocking blood flow. Atrial fibrillation (irregular heart beat) is the most common cause of embolization or migration of a clot from the heart to the brain.

The other 20% of strokes are caused by sudden excessive bleeding in the brain, called a hemorrhage.

There are 2 types of hemorrhage: subarachnoid and cerebral. Subarachnoid hemorrhage occurs when a blood vessel on the surface of the brain ruptures and bleeds into the space between the brain and the skull. Cerebral hemorrhage occurs when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures and bleeds into the surrounding tissue. The amount of bleeding determines the severity of the stroke.The chance of dying is higher with a hemorrhagic stroke versus an ischemic stroke due to increased pressure on the brain, but those people who survive tend to recover much more than people that have had a stroke caused by a clot.

Know your risks of having a stroke

Knowing your risk factors may help you to prevent a stroke.

Risk factors you can change

  • Smoking: Stop smoking now, for good!

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure): Get your blood pressure checked and take measures to lower it if it's too high. Anything higher than 120/80 needs to be lowered. A regimen of appropriate diet, exercise, healthy weight loss, and medication can help lower your blood pressure.

  • High cholesterol levels: There are 2 types of cholesterol, "good" and "bad." The good cholesterol (or HDL) transports cholesterol from the blood vessels to the liver, whereas the bad cholesterol (LDL) sends cholesterol from the liver into the blood vessels. Know what your cholesterol levels (both HDL and LDL) are and what they mean. Ask your doctor to check them if you do not know. Continue to have them checked regularly. If you are prescribed cholesterol medicine, take it as directed. Choose foods that will lower your "bad" cholesterol and increase your "good" cholesterol.

  • Uncontrolled diabetes: Uncontrolled diabetes can accelerate atherosclerosis (blockage of the arteries). Seek medical attention and engage in the appropriate balance of diet, exercise, and medication to control your blood sugar.

  • Lack of exercise: Increase your activity. Even a short walk every day will increase your well-being and may lead to a more active life.

  • Poor diet: Learn about good and bad fats and how to transform your diet into one that is healthy and will increase your well-being and enjoyment of life.

  • Uncontrolled stress: Stress levels can be changed or better managed if you educate yourself on what causes your stress and learn stress-reduction techniques.

Risk factors you can't change

  • Genetics: You can't change who your parents are and what they pass on to you, so if your parents have had a stroke, it might increase your risk of having a stroke. You can educate yourself on how to maximize your health situation and change the risk factors that you can.

  • Age: The older we are, the higher the chance of a stroke occurring.

  • Gender: Men develop symptomatic disease at an earlier age, but women are also at risk.

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