Q & A: Stroke

January 12, 2013
Dr. Kessarin Panichpisal

According to the World Stroke Organization (WSO), stroke claims a life every six seconds. Stroke prevention starts with reducing risk factors, recognizing the warning signs of stroke, and knowing what to do if a stroke occurs. In this edition of Q&A, Dr. Kessarin Panichpisal, a vascular neurology specialist at Bumrungrad, answers reader questions about this serious health threat.

Q:        I experienced some unusual symptoms recently; all of a sudden my arm and leg on one side of my body became numb and weak and my vision became blurred. The symptoms lasted about 10 minutes before clearing up. Looking back, should I have gone to see a doctor?

A:        Based on the symptoms you describe, you probably suffered a transient ischemic attack (TIA). This so-called “mini-stroke” typically doesn’t cause permanent brain damage, but it is a stroke warning. It’s important to get medical help at the first sign of TIA or stroke-type symptoms. In your current situation, I advise you to see your doctor for an evaluation.
While strokes aren’t typically preceded by TIAs, about one-third of patients who experience a TIA end up having a stroke within a year. A TIA provides a clear warning that you need to take action to reduce your risk of stroke before it’s too late.
Q:        I have seen articles advising people to take aspirin at the first sign of a stroke. Is this advice correct?
A:        Aspirin should only be taken by a stroke victim on the advice of a doctor. Aspirin can be helpful, but it can also do harm, depending on whether the stroke is ischemic or hemorrhagic. An ischemic stroke – the more common type – involves the disruption of blood flow to the brain from a blood clot or other blockage inside an artery. Aspirin makes it harder for blood to clot; this anti-clotting property can be beneficial to an ischemic stroke patient.A hemorrhagic stroke involves bleeding inside the brain. For someone suffering a hemorrhagic stroke, taking aspirin could actually lead to a more damaging outcome. At the onset of a stroke, getting immediate medical help is the critical first step. Stroke victims who seek treatment quickly have better odds for surviving the stroke, and doctors can choose more effective treatments to reduce the extent of permanent damage.

Q:        What is the usual treatment for a stroke? How long does the treatment process last, and do most patients have a successful recovery?
A:        The type of treatment, and how well it works, largely depends upon the severity of the stroke, the time it took the patient to get medical help, and the knowledge and experience of the patient’s medical team.
When a doctor can evaluate a patient and begin treatment soon after the stroke, treatments are more successful. Patients suffer less severe damage and treatments are less traumatic. When a patient fails to get urgent medical attention, doctors may still be able to restore bloodflow to the brain, but post-stroke treatment and recovery will typically require a lot more time, and the patient will likely be left with more severe permanent damage, paralysis and other impairments.
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