When you get a headache, you probably take aspirin and try to shrug it off. But sometimes headaches are warning signs of something much more serious — a stroke, a condition that’s similar to a heart attack but affects the brain. More than 795,000 people in the US suffer from a stroke every year, and of those, about 130,000 die from it. According to one survey, while 60 percent of people knew that severe headache with no known cause could signal stroke, only 38 percent of people could recognize all the major symptoms and knew to call 911 right away so they can be taken to the nearest stroke center.
Type of stroke: ischemic (blockage-type brain attack)
- What it is: About 85 percent of strokes are ischemic, which occur when a blockage prevents a blood vessel from providing blood to the brain.
- Headache symptoms: Most ischemic strokes don’t cause headaches. But some types, such as arterial dissections (blockage in an artery supplying the brain) and cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (blockage in veins draining blood from the brain), can produce a splitting headache. Sometimes people with headaches due to arterial dissections also have teary eyes on one side, as well as weakness or numbness on the side of their body opposite the headache. People with headaches due to venous sinus thrombosis may also have blurry vision and/or seizures.
- Treatments: Fortunately, better treatments for brain attacks are now available at stroke centers. In the past, only thrombolytic medications (t-PA) were available to try to dissolve these blockages. Nowadays, minimally invasive catheter-based treatments – similar to stents used on heart attack patients – can open blocked vessels in people with brain attacks such as in Comprehensive Stroke Centers.
Type of stroke: hemorrhagic (a.k.a. bleeding-type brain attack, or brain bleed)
- What it is: There are two types of hemorrhagic strokes: subarachnoid and intracerebral.
- An intracerebral hemorrhagic stroke, which accounts for around 12 percent of all brain attacks, occurs when a weakened blood vessel or aneurysm bursts, causing a brain bleed. Hypertension is the most common risk factor for an intracerebral hemorrhagic stroke.
- A subarachnoid hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a bulge in a blood vessel (a.k.a. aneurysm) within the covering layers of the brain ruptures, causing bleeding in the space surrounding the brain. While subarachnoid hemorrhagic strokes are less common, accounting for around three percent of all brain attacks, their results are often devastating. About 10 percent of people suffering from a brain bleed die immediately, and of the remaining 90 percent who make it to the ER, about half will die within 30 days.
- Headache symptoms: An intracerebral hemorrhage, which most often occurs in people with high blood pressure or less frequently from an underlying vascular malformation (AVM), causes sudden, severe headaches. People with subarachnoid hemorrhagic strokes often complain of suddenly experiencing the worst headache of their lives.
- Treatments: While brain surgery was once the only option, now, Comprehensive Stroke Centers’ less-invasive options are available, including endovascular treatments with coils, stents and flow diverters for brain aneurysms, and endoscopic treatments with vacuum suction devices for evacuating brain bleeds.
What is a Comprehensive Stroke Center and how close am I to one?
Comprehensive Stroke Centers treat patients suffering from ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes to the most complex stroke cases via t-PA administration and interventional procedures. The less-invasive procedures are performed by Interventional Neurologists utilizing Biplane Imaging Technology which produces highly detailed 3-D views of blood vessels leading and within the brain. Combined with a full continuum of stroke care, trained neurological nurses, therapists, neurologists and neurosurgeons, a Comprehensive Stroke Center is the best chance of survival for stroke patients. Fortunately, for the Osceola community, Osceola Regional has recently opened a Comprehensive Stroke Center, the only one of its kind in the county.
Unfortunately, some risk factors for stroke can’t be changed but there are a few things you can do to lower your risk. Visit OsceolaRegional.com to learn about prevention.
If you think you or someone you know is having a stroke, remember the acronym F.A.S.T. — Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty and Time to call 911.