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Ask the Medical Expert Archives 2000-2004

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What is a Stroke?
April 2000

Q. What is a stroke?

A. When not enough blood gets to a heart muscle you get a heart attack; when not enough blood gets to part of the brain you get a stroke. There are two types of strokes. In one, the blood supply is blocked (a thrombotic stroke). In the other, a blood vessel breaks inside the brain (hemorrhagic stroke).

The symptoms of a stroke depend in part on what part of the brain is affected. So, if the speech center is injured, the person will have difficulty talking. If the part of the brain that handles movement on the left side is affected, the person will be weak on the left.

The sad part of a stroke is that so many people die from it and those who survive often have severe disabilities. The good part of a stroke is that the initial disability is usually greater than the final disability. For example, it is possible for a person to be unable to speak right after the stroke but to recover the ability to speak after a few weeks.

From the American Heart Association's main web site (http://americanheart.org/) you will find links to warning signs and risk assessment, an easy reference guide, prevention activities, and more education material about heart disease. There is a particularly good section on stroke at http://americanheart.org/Heart_and_Stroke_A_Z_Guide/stroke.html. Another great site is that of the National Stroke Association, which is dedicated to helping both survivors and their caregivers (see http://www.stroke.org/).

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