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Updated: 4/11/2007 2:47 pm
When the brain is prevented from receiving proper blood flow and oxygen, it can have a 'brain attack' or stroke. Strokes most often result from a traveling blood clot lodging in and completely blocking an artery to the brain, thereby cutting off blood and oxygen supplies. In general, there are both uncontrollable and controllable factors that increase the risk of stroke. Uncontrollable physiological (fizz-ee-o-LAW-jik-uhl) stroke risk factors include: increasing age, male gender, heredity, high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus (dy-ah-BEET-eez mell-I-tiss), prior strokes, prior mini-strokes, carotid (keh-RAW-tid) artery disease, heart disease, and high red blood cell count. There are also modifiable, non-physiological and lifestyle factors. For example, the southeastern United States incurs a higher incidence of stroke, as do locations with extremes in hot or cold temperature. Cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol intake, intravenous drug use, physical inactivity, obesity, and high blood cholesterol may all put a person at higher risk for stroke. Prior to an actual stroke, there may be a number of warning signs, allowing time to obtain emergency help. These symptoms are generally sudden and can include numbness of face, arm, leg, or one side of the body; confused speech or difficulty understanding; difficulty seeing, walking, balancing; or severe, unexplained headache. In some cases, if medical help is sought immediately, an anti-clotting medication called tissue plasminogen (plaz-MIN-ah-jin) activator, or TPA (T-P-A), may be administered. Since the majority of all strokes are the result of a lodged blood clot, properly timed administration of TPA can lessen or arrest the attack. The attack may be short-lived and leave no noticeable physical damage, as with mini-strokes. Or, they may be more serious, causing permanent sensory and motor skill impairment or even death. An oxygen-deprived brain may sustain damage to one or both sides, often resulting in disabilities on one side of the body. To some extent, depending upon the level of brain damage, stroke effects may respond to physical therapy and rehabilitation. Common post-stroke disabilities include: uncontrollable emotional responses; one-sided awareness; inability to recognize previously familiar objects; difficulty articulating, writing, and reading; slurred or fuzzy speech; trouble with eating and swallowing; and inability to perform simple, common tasks. If you're concerned about strokes or have questions about this topic, contact a healthcare provider.

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