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Blocked Arteries in the Brain

author image Kelly Spivey
Kelly Spivey began writing for the American Council on Exercise (ACE) in 2007. She authored chapters in the "ACE Advanced Health & Fitness Specialist Manual" and "ACE Personal Trainer Manual." Spivey holds a Doctor of Naturology from the American Institute of Holistic Theology and a Master of Sport Science in fitness management from the U.S. Sports Academy.
Blocked Arteries in the Brain
A severe headache can be a symptom of a stroke, especially due to a hemorrhage. Photo Credit Hangover, Headache, Pain image by Monika 3 Steps Ahead from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>

A stroke occurs when an artery in the brain is either blocked or hemorrhages, seeping blood into the brain. According to the National Stroke Association, stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States but is the principal cause of disability in adults. Eighty percent of strokes are due to blocked arteries caused by blood clots or other debris like plaque. When brain cells fails to receive oxygen and glucose, tissue death begins within five to six minutes. Symptoms occur rather quickly and are likely to affect the opposite side of the body from where the stroke occurred. For example, if a stroke occurs in the left side of the brain, the right side of the body will likely be affected. Doctors may be able to make a quick assessment of the location of the stroke based on the symptoms of the person. Here are four common arteries affected by stroke.

Anterior Cerebral Artery, or ACA

The anterior cerebral artery works its way from the front of the brain toward the back and branches throughout the top of the brain. According to the Merck Manual, symptoms of an ACA stroke include loss of function, especially in the leg. The person may seem off balance or have an uncoordinated gait. Urinary incontinence is another symptom. The person may also appear confused, apathetic and display poor judgment.

Middle Cerebral Artery on the Left or Dominant Hemisphere

For most, the left side of the brain is the dominant side. As far at the middle cerebral artery is concerned, symptoms may be a bit different, depending on which side of the brain is affected. According to Dr. Daniel Slater, who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation, symptoms include muscle weakness or loss of function, on the opposite side of the body, which for most is on the right. The symptoms are likely worse in the arm and face. There may also be a loss of sensation on the opposite side of the body. Vision may be distorted, with blindness in half the field of vision. The person may have difficulty articulating words if the muscles of face are affected. Additionally, there may be an inability to speak, understand speech, or even communicate either written or orally. This last symptom is specific to a stroke occurring on the dominant side.

Middle Cerebral Artery on the Right or Non-Dominant side

Many of the symptoms mentioned for a MCA stroke on the dominant side may also occur with a stroke on the non-dominant side but for most, the symptoms would affect the left side of the body. Symptoms specific to a non-dominant side stroke include an inability to willfully control movements. According to the Merck Manual, there seems to be a disconnect between what the brain wants to do and what the muscles are able to do. There is also sensory neglect, meaning the person is unable to see, hear or feel sensation on the left side of the body. According to Dr. Slater, the person may also get lost in familiar surroundings and appear confused.

Basilar Artery

The basilar artery is the most important artery at the back of the brain. Common symptoms include weakness on one side of the body or face, but with a BA stroke, the weakness could affect both arms and legs. Other common symptoms include dizziness, nausea, vomiting or speech impairment. Dr. Salvador Cruz-Flores, the Director of the Souers Stroke Institute, acknowledges that BA strokes tend to have poor outcomes, with a 70 percent mortality rate.

Posterior Cerebral Artery

The Posterior Cerebral Artery or PCA branches from the basilar artery and extends toward the back of the brain. According to Dr. Christopher Luzzio of the Department of Neurology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, PCA strokes only occur five to ten percent of the time and tend to be less disabling. Common PCA stroke symptoms include sudden spastic movements, mostly in the lower arms and hands or a tingling or numbness. The Merck Manual also mentions blindness in half the vision field or an inability to move the eye up, down or inward. The eyelids may also droop. The person may also be dizzy, nauseous and have a headache in the back of the head. Memory loss can also occur.

Act Fast

Blocked Arteries in the Brain
Don't delay the call to EMS Photo Credit call 911 image by Empath from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>

Eighty percent of strokes can be prevented through positive lifestyle interventions. It is important to control high blood pressure and diabetes, and to reduce cholesterol. If you smoke, it is best to quit, especially if using oral contraceptives. Engage in regular physical activity and if necessary, lose weight. If you or someone you know are experiencing any of these signs or symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately. The faster emergency medical care is received, less brain tissue is lost reducing the likelihood of suffering permanent disability.

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