Banner Top


Feature Story Title


Feature Story

Emergency: Brain attack!

Recognize a stroke and save your life.

By Ivan Olegario, M.D.


We Filipinos know too well what a heart attack looks like, thanks to its portrayal in countless movies and TV shows: the elderly man or woman, in a fit of anger or shock, suddenly develops excruciating chest pain, which later leads to death. The effect—when someone develops chest pain, that somebody is quickly brought to the emergency room.

Sadly, this is not the usual scenario when a person suffers from a brain attack.

“Wait, what is a brain attack?” you ask in your head.

A brain attack, or a stroke, is a medical emergency worthy of as much urgency as a heart attack. It’s when the blood flow to the brain is interrupted, either due to a blockage, such as from a blood clot or ischemic stroke; or due to a burst blood vessel or hemorrhagic stroke. Since brain cells are highly dependent on oxygen and sugar from the blood supply, a brain attack leads to the rapid death of brain cells. The longer the brain is starved of its blood supply, the larger the damage becomes.

In the 1970s, doctors Vladimir Hachinski and John Norris moved that a stroke be rightfully called a “brain attack.” Their goal was to cause alarm and highlight that the urgency of a stroke should be the same as that involving in a heart attack—because the faster treatment is received by the stroke victim, the more his brain is spared from injury.

Different strokes

Around half of people who suffer from brain attacks are unaware they’re experiencing a stroke. This is because people don’t usually know what a stroke looks or feels like. The problem is that a stroke can manifest differently for different people, depending on which blood vessel in the brain was affected, and the extent of the injury. Some people can experience one or more of the following symptoms:

• numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg, especially on one side;

• confusion or trouble understanding other people;

• trouble speaking;

• trouble seeing with one or both eyes;

• trouble walking or staying balanced or coordinated;

• dizziness;

• severe headache that comes on for no known reason; and

• seizures.

To make it easier for people to suspect a stroke, the American Stroke Association developed the acronym F.A.S.T.:

• Face drooping. Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person's smile uneven?

• Arm weakness. Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

• Speech difficulty. Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like "The sky is blue." Is the sentence repeated correctly?

• Time to call for help. If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call for help or get the person to the hospital immediately. Check the time so you'll know when the first symptoms appeared.

Preventing brain attack

Because the mechanism behind a heart attack is similar to that of a brain attack, their risks factors are also similar. These include the elderly; those with hypertension, diabetes or high blood cholesterol; those who are obese or sedentary; and smokers or heavy alcohol users.

Furthermore, around 15 percent of stroke cases may be due to a condition called atrial fibrillation. This is a heart condition wherein the heart chamber called the atrium doesn’t contract properly. When this happens, blood pools in the atrium, and blood clots form. These clots can then travel to the brain and later lodge in one of the blood vessels, causing a blockage that leads to a stroke.

Knowing the similarities between heart and brain attacks, it’s no surprise that the measures to prevent them are also similar. For more on disease prevention, grab a copy of the October issue of HealthToday.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Banner Bottom