How do Strokes Cause Neurological Damage?

wiseGEEK Writer

All tissues in the body depend upon blood flow in order to remain alive. Strokes, particularly those caused by a blocked artery (ischemic stroke) or by a burst blood vessel in the brain (hemorrhagic stroke) can stop abruptly end blood flow and thus oxygenation of the tissues. Just as we need to breathe keep alive, the tissues in our body need the oxygen provided by blood to stay alive. Strokes, unfortunately, can quickly cause neurological damage because brain tissue is deprived of oxygen.

A diagram of an ischemic stroke and a hemorrhagic stroke.
A diagram of an ischemic stroke and a hemorrhagic stroke.

Within as little as a minute, brain cells not receiving oxygen can begin to die, or go through programmed cell death called apoptosis. The condition worsens the longer brain cells go without oxygen. Quick intervention, or quick removal of the blockage or stoppage of brain bleeds can minimize neurological damage. However, often one must, especially with hemorrhagic strokes, determine the source of the problem. The time that it takes to make this determination means continued brain damage.

Quitting smoking reduces the risk of stroke.
Quitting smoking reduces the risk of stroke.

Because even small strokes can create a small amount of neurological damage, a suspected stroke is always an emergency medical condition. Time is literally brain cells, and a suspected stroke should be treated immediately.

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Not all neurological damage means that a person will need rehabilitation after a stroke. In some cases, a doctor can definitely tell a patient that some brain cells died, but not enough died to affect the brain’s speech centers, or the body’s ability to move, for example. Further, there are numerous things besides strokes that can cause insignificant neurological damage, like consuming a relatively small quantity of alcohol, for instance.

However, unlike the occasional glass of wine, strokes have the possibility of causing significant brain damage that can result in loss of mental function, loss of speech, destabilization of mood and paralysis or impaired movement, as well as death. This is because strokes have the innate chance of killing huge amounts of brain cells, especially as long as a clot continues to block oxygen to brain cells, or a hemorrhagic stroke depletes the brain of necessary blood flow.

Because the risks associated with strokes are so severe, prevention is emphasized. Risk factors for stroke that are preventable include eating a high fat diet and smoking. A well-balanced diet and smoking cessation can definitely lower risk of experiencing a stroke. Getting regular check-ups are also a valuable part of preventing strokes. If a physician knows ahead of time that a patient has hardened arteries, or other conditions that increase the possibility of strokes, these conditions can be treated well before strokes occur.

The human brain, including blood vessels that can be involved in a stroke.
The human brain, including blood vessels that can be involved in a stroke.

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