While 87 percent of strokes are ischemic strokes, caused by a blocked artery resulting in a lack of blood flow to the brain, an equally critical type of stroke, hemorrhagic, occurs when weakened blood vessels rupture and the accumulating blood compresses brain tissue.
“Ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes have the same symptoms and both can be devastating,” Kelly Lockhart, MD, specializing in Critical Care Medicine and Pulmonary Disease at Colorado Springs Pulmonary Consultants, said. “The only way to tell the difference is with a CT scan.”
Even though hemorrhagic strokes are less common, they are responsible for nearly 40 percent of all stroke deaths. Slowing the bleeding and reducing compression on brain tissue right away is the only option doctors have for treating patients suffering a hemorrhagic stroke.
“Patients experiencing ischemic strokes can benefit from blood thinners to get rid of the clot, or we can go in and pull the clot out,” Lockhart said. “With hemorrhagic stroke patients we can only try to diminish pressure on brain tissue by controlling the bleeding.”
Because of the pressure caused by hemorrhagic stroke, vital oxygen and nutrients are withheld from brain tissue and the affected brain cells die within a few hours. Appropriate care administered as soon as possible can help to restore those nutrients and prevent additional damage.
Penrose-St. Francis Health Services provides 24/7 advanced stroke treatment and was named a certified Advanced Primary Stroke Center by The Joint Commission. Penrose-St. Francis is part of Centura Health, the region’s leading healthcare network.
The single most important risk factor for hemorrhagic stroke is hypertension, or high blood pressure. High blood pressure damages arteries and can weaken blood vessels to the point that they rupture, or in the case of an aneurysm, spots can fill up with blood and balloon out from the artery wall.
“The second highest risk factor is smoking,” Lockhart said. “Smoking is a significant factor in all disorders involving blood vessels.” Smoking causes plaque build-up in arteries and may do further damage to blood vessels. Family history can also play key a role in increasing the risk of stroke.
“Prevention is the best method when it comes to almost any type of stroke,” Lockhart said. “Understanding and managing risk, along with practicing healthy lifestyle choices, will considerably reduce the risk of having a stroke.”