Diabetes and Strokes

RFS - Stroke - blood vessel enlargementPeople with diabetes are 4 – 6 times more likely to suffer a stroke than those in the general population. In fact, 2 out of 3 people with diabetes will actually die from stroke or heart disease, and strokes are the No. 3 cause of death in the United States.

What is a Stroke?

Stroke is a condition that affects the arteries leading to and inside the brain. A stroke occurs when one of the blood vessels to the brain is either blocked by a clot, or bursts. When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood (and oxygen) it needs, so it starts to die.

There are types of major strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic, and a couple of variations within both those types. A third type of stroke, a transient ischemic attack, or TIA, is a minor stroke that is a warning sign that a more severe stroke may occur.

An ischemic stroke, which makes up about 83% of all strokes, occurs when a blood vessel becomes blocked. The blockage may be a blood clot, but vessels may also become clogged with fat or cholesterol, a condition known as atherosclerosis. There are two different types of ischemic stroke, depending on the location the clots form. Clots that form inside a blocked blood vessel in the brain cause a thrombotic stroke. An Embolic stroke happens when a clot forms somewhere in the body and travels toward the brain until it gets lodged in a narrow artery, causing a blockage. Ischemic strokes may also be caused by a deformity in the valves of the heart, or an inflammation of the lining of the heart.

A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts or breaks, causing bleeding in the brain. Hemorrhagic stroke can most often be traced to high blood pressure, but it may also be caused by an aneurysm which is when a weakened portion of a blood vessel balloons out and ruptures.

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is sometimes referred to as a pre-stroke and is a warning sign of an impending stroke that could cause damage. A TIA generally does no damage but does produce temporary stroke symptoms which subside.

Additional Risk Factors

Women who take birth control pills, are over age 35 and smoke are at a greater risk of ischemic stroke. Heavy drinking, hemophilia or head injury may increase risk of having a hemorrhagic stroke.

Symptoms of a Stroke

The symptoms vary depending on whether the stroke is caused by a clot or bleeding. The location and the extent of brain damage can also affect symptoms.

  • Sudden numbness, paralysis, or weakness in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.
  • New problems with walking or balance.
  • Sudden vision changes including blurred or double vision.
  • Drooling or slurred speech.
  • Sudden problems speaking or understanding simple statements, or feeling confused.
  • A sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches – sometimes described as the worst headache ever.

Symptoms of an ischemic stroke usually occur in the side of the body opposite from the side of the brain where the clot occurred. For example, a stroke in the right side of the brain affects the left side of the body. Symptoms of a hemorrhagic stroke may also include nausea and vomiting, neck stiffness, dizziness, seizures, irritability, confusion and, possibly, unconsciousness.

Symptoms of a stroke may progress over minutes, hours, or days, often in a “stepwise fashion”. For example, a mild weakness may progress to an inability to move the limbs on one side of the body.

When it comes to strokes every second can make the difference between a mild event and a disabling event. Because a stroke stops the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain, that flow must be resumed as quickly as possible to avoid severe brain damage.

There are drugs that can be used in nearly 80% of strokes (Ischemic – caused by a clot) that work very quickly and, if given within a few hours of the onset, can greatly reduce the potential long term damage from a stroke.