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2.11. CVA = cerebral vascular accident; stroke

Blood, like human emotion, doesn't do well when blocked or overflowing everywhere. Most people still use the term, "stroke," for the third leading cause of death in the U.S. (after heart disease & cancer), though for awhile the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was trying to make the phrase, "brain attack," happen.

During a heart attack, part of the heart doesn't get enough blood/oxygen, starts freaking out, and cells might die. When a brain attack or stroke happens, part(s) of the brain don't get enough blood/oxygen, or maybe a blood vessel ruptures. Either way, call an ambulance, because time = brain cells.

If someone exhibits sudden numbness/weakness of the face, arm or leg, esp. on one side; experiences sudden confusion; suddenly has trouble speaking or understanding; has a sudden severe headache with no known cause; suddenly has trouble seeing in one or both eyes; or has sudden trouble with walking or balance, call 911 immediately (as opposed to driving a private vehicle, as paramedics can provide rapid, first response upon arrival).

Do not let the patient dismiss his or her symptoms, go to sleep, take an aspirin or other blood thinner (this can make a brain bleed worse), or eat/drink (patient may choke). There are transient/mini strokes as well as acute strokes, and these could be due to a blocked or ruptured blood vessel--the only way to confirm a blockage or bleed is through a CT scan at the hospital.


In the ER, the patient will receive a CT scan or MRI, an electrocardiogram (ECG), bloodwork and other tests. A diagnosed clot may be treated with a "clotbuster," while a bleeding vessel or aneurysm should be embolized (blocked).

After discharge, patients may need rehabilitation or additional care due to temporary or permanent deficits. If the left hemisphere of the brain is damaged, there may be deficits in logic, ability to understand language, and changes in mobility on the right side of the body. If the right brain is damaged, the patient may show poor impulse control, balance, and issues with the left side of the body. The good news is the faster initial stroke symptoms were spotted and responded to, the better the patient's chances of positive outcomes.

Our hearts may pump blood and oxygen to every part of the body, but our brains make us who we are--perhaps a good reason to take good care of those precious brain cells.

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