This is the most common thought of every woman around that diseases like heart attack, stroke is rare for them. But unfortunately it is a myth and something which should be taken very seriously.
In the year 2008, around 7.3 million deaths occurred due to coronary heart disease and 6 million people died due to stroke. Every year, stroke kills twice as many women as breast cancer does. Still most of us are not aware of the symptoms, preventions and the cures. Awareness is the most important step for our healthier lives.

Heart attack and stroke are cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) which occur due to the formation of atherosclerotic plaques. Plaques are formed due to the deposition of fatty acids and cholesterol in the lumen of arteries which reduces the size of lumen. The blood vessels become rigid and the result of this is sudden rupture of plaque which triggers blood clot formation. If clot formation occurs in coronary artery then it is called heart attack, but if it develops in brain then it is called stroke. Formation of clot finally leads to interruption of blood flow and cells die when they no longer receive oxygen and nutrients from the blood.

Strokes can be of two types, ischemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke. In ischemic stroke, formation of clot, thrombosis, hinders blood supply to the brain. But in hemorrhagic stroke, blood vessel in the brain bursts causing bleeding in the brain. Eighty percent of all strokes are ischemic. Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) are also known as mini strokes as in this case there is temporary blockage in the blood flow. They are generally observed few days or weeks before full stroke so they act as alarm signals without causing any permanent brain damage. They may continue from few minutes to few hours. Although the causes are different, outcomes are same causing disability, problems in thinking, learning, speaking, paralysis, and possibly death. Therefore it is very important to be aware of risk factors, symptoms, ways to prevent and medical cures available.

There are several factors which actually promote the risk of having stroke such as use of tobacco, high consumption of alcohol, use of illicit drugs, sedentary life style and unhealthy diet (excess of salt, calories and fat), having conditions as high blood pressure, high sugar, high cholesterol level, stress and depression. Women, who take birth control pills and are over age 35, have greater risk for ischemic stroke. Some factors increasing risk for stroke are uncontrollable as increasing age and genetic tendency due to family history. Among all, one of the major factors is high blood pressure. People with hypertension have almost four times higher risk than those without hypertension. Even children having medical complications such as intracranial infection, brain injury and certain genetic disorders as sickle cell anaemia have risk of having stroke.

Some risk factors apply specially to women as pregnancy, child birth and menopause. Hormonal changes during these periods are main cause. Even the use of high dose of oral contraceptives is one of the risk factors. During pregnancy the risk of stroke increases as much as 3 to 13 times and it is greatest during the period of 6 weeks after child birth.

Awareness about warning signs of stroke is very important so that patient gets help on time. Common symptoms of stroke include numbness in arm, leg, or face, specially on one side of the body, sudden difficulty in speaking, seeing, walking, dizziness, sudden severe headache, tiredness, racing heartbeat and nausea. In children symptoms may vary to some extent as seizures or convulsions. These symptoms may occur alone or in combination. The extent of severity will depend on which part of brain has been affected. If any of these symptoms are observed, we should immediately go for medical help.

Once we reach hospital, different techniques are used to diagnose exact cause of stroke as it is important for correct therapy to be chosen. CT scan and MRI are major techniques used.
In case of ischemic stroke, best instant prescribed remedy is intravenous injection of thrombolytic agents like streptokinase, staphylokinase, tissue plasminogen activator and urokinase. Presently the only FDA approved drug is tissue plasminogen activator (TPA) which lyses blood clots if administered within 3 to 4.5 hours of onset of symptoms and increases the chances of recovery. Some side effects are also present for tissue plasminogen activator such as hemorrhagic transformation but many researches are going on for its improvement. New variants of tissue plasminogen activator are being made using genetic engineering which are more potent, with increased specificity, increased half life, less immunogenicity and causing fewer hemorrhagic transformations. Aspirin is also given sometimes to prevent another stroke as it prevents blood clots from forming. Doctors may advise for surgeries like angioplasty and placement of intracranial stents to prevent another stroke from occurring.

Emergency treatment of hemorrhagic stroke focuses on controlling bleeding and reducing pressure in the brain. People having a hemorrhagic stroke can't be given clot-busters such as aspirin and TPA, because these drugs may worsen bleeding. Surgeries may be performed to repair certain blood vessel abnormalities such as surgical clipping or coiling.

Many new developments are going on to open blocked arteries faster and completely. Neuroprotective therapies such as the use of magnesium, statins, mixture of low doses of caffeine and ethanol, albumin and induced hypothermia are being explored.

Rehabilitation programs are there for stroke survivors so that they can learn to live their normal life again and as soon as possible. Doctor will recommend the therapy program based on age, overall health and the degree of disability from stroke. Most important is physical therapy. Then there is occupational therapy which includes relearning daily activities, speech therapy, psychological or psychiatric help. Role of family is most important in recovering fast.

Best way to keep yourself and your loved ones safe is following art of prevention and always having check on blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol level and our habits.

Remember stroke is a medical emergency and it is not at all age, race or gender biased!

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