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 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% of people knew that severe headache with no known cause could signal stroke, only 38% of people could recognize all the major symptoms and knew to call 9-1-1 right away.
Unfortunately, knowing when your headache spells trouble can be difficult.
Type of Stroke: Ischemic (Blockage-Type Brain Attack)
- What it is: About 85% 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. In the past, we only had medications to try to dissolve these blockages, but these days minimally invasive catheter-based treatments - similar to stents used on heart attack patients - can open blocked vessels in people with brain attacks.
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% 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 3% of all brain attacks, their results are often devastating. About 10% of people suffering from a brain bleed die immediately, and of the remaining 90% 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. Some patients say that the headache associated with a ruptured brain aneurysm feels like something is erupting in their head and is a headache unlike anything they've ever experienced.
- Treatments: While brain surgery was once the only option. Now, less-invasive options are now available, including endovascular treatments with coils, stents and flow diverters for brain aneurysms, and endoscopic treatments with vacuum suction devices for evacuating brain bleeds.
Reduce Your Risk
Unfortunately, some risk factors for stroke can't be changed. For instance, stroke risk doubles with each decade after age 55, and your risk of stroke is greater if you have a family history of the disease. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to lower stroke risk:
- Lose weight
- Exercise regularly
- Eat a healthy diet
- Watch your blood sugar
- Lower your cholesterol
- Watch your blood pressure
- Don't smoke, and avoid being around second-hand smoke
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 9-1-1.
Recognized for its outstanding stroke care, both Coliseum Medical Centers and Coliseum Northside Hospital have been accredited by the Joint Commission as a Primary Stroke Center. For the ninth year in a row, Coliseum Medical Centers has received "Get With the Guidelines" Certification in stroke by the American Heart Association. Coliseum Medical Centers' Inpatient Rehabilitation Center is the only Joint Commission certified Stroke Rehabilitation Center in the area.
To learn more about stroke or to take a free online stroke risk assessment, visit our website.