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What Happens in a Stroke? Experts Liken It to a 'Brain Attack'

I’m Steve Ember with the VOA Special English Health Report.

Everyone has heard of a heart attack. But what about a "brain attack"? Some medical experts say that is one way to think of a stroke.

On December eighteenth, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a minor stroke. Then, last Wednesday, the seventy-seven-year-old leader had a severe stroke with bleeding in the brain.

There are two major kinds of strokes. The more common is an ischemic stroke. A blood clot blocks or restricts the flow of blood to the brain. Brain cells begin to die.

About ninety percent of strokes are the ischemic kind. Hemorrhagic strokes are more serious. A blood vessel in the brain bursts. There is bleeding into or around the brain.

Mister Sharon had to have operations to stop the bleeding. Doctors also took another step to ease the pressure on his brain. They gave him drugs to create what is known as a medically induced coma. Then, on Monday, they began to wake him.

Doctors reported signs of improvement in his condition. But it was too soon to measure possible brain damage.

Each side of the brain controls the opposite side of the body. In most people, the left side of the brain controls speech and language. Experts say a stroke on the right side, like Mister Sharon had, often causes some loss of movement.

Strokes can result in temporary or permanent disability.

Common warning signs of a stroke are sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg. Others signs include trouble speaking or understanding, loss of balance or a sudden, severe headache. Last Wednesday Mister Sharon felt some pain in his chest and weakness.

Overweight people are at greater risk of a stroke. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes and high cholesterol levels in the blood.

Strokes are the third leading cause of death in the United States, Canada and Japan, after heart disease and cancer.

There are drugs designed to target the effects of a stroke while it is happening. After an ischemic stroke, doctors may give blood thinners, as in the case of Mister Sharon in December. Experts say the possible risk, however, is a greater chance of a bleeding stroke.

In any case, doctors say it is important to seek treatment for a stroke right away.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Cynthia Kirk. Our reports can be found on the Internet at I’m Steve Ember.