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Temporary Paralysis?
October 2000

Q. My aunt had a stroke today. She is at the hospital and her left side is paralyzed. The doctors say they will wait and see. Will she get better? Is it common for a stroke victim to have only temporary paralysis?

A. A stroke occurs when something interrupts blood flow into the brain. The resulting lack of oxygen causes the affected cells to die and areas of the body controlled by that area of the brain will be affected. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States, and the number one cause of severe disability in adults.

The majority of strokes are caused by blood clots blocking arteries that supply the brain. But not every blockage leads to a full-blown stroke. If a clot stops blood flow for just a moment, a person will have a transient ischemic attack (TIA), sometimes called a ministroke. A TIA leaves no permanent damage, but it's a signal that the person is at risk for a crippling stroke in the future. A less common type of stroke, called a hemorrhagic stroke, occurs when a blood vessel ruptures in the brain.

When a stroke occurs, the brain cells that control the functions of speech, movement, or memory may die. The specific abilities that may be lost or affected depend on where in the brain the stroke occurs and on the size of the stroke -- that is, how many brain cells were damaged. According to the National Stroke Association, someone who has a small stroke may experience effects such as weakness of a limb or difficulty walking. A person who has a bigger stroke may be paralyzed on one side or lose the ability to talk. Some people die from very severe strokes, while those who suffer milder strokes may recover fully. It is hard to predict the course of recovery, as nerve cells can slowly regenerate over a year. The sooner that signs of recovery occur after a stroke, the better likelihood of further recovery.

Strokes usually strike people over age 65, and they're more common in men and African Americans. You can't change your age, gender, or race, but many other risk factors can be modified. High blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, a smoking habit, excess alcohol consumption, and obesity all make strokes more likely.




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