Cardiology jobs involve treating patients with cardiovascular disease as well as patients who are at risk for a stroke or who have already suffered a stroke. Most readers will be familiar with the largest risk factors for stroke: age, elevated blood pressure, smoking, and having diabetes. However, there are additional risk factors that only a cardiologist or other qualified physician can diagnose: left ventricular hypertrophy and atrial fibrillation (two types of abnormal heart function). Normally, patients with controllable risk factors like smoking, diabetes, being overweight, etc., can reduce the risk to their health by controlling their diabetes, reducing their weight, exercising, and being treated by a qualified physician.
The most basic way to understand a stroke is by thinking of all the blood vessels that connect the heart with the brain (the vessels that connect these two organs are called arteries). The human brain is like the central command center of the body, and each of the arteries brings blood (and oxygen!) to a specific part of the brain. When a stroke occurs, one of these arteries is either blocked, or it bursts, causing an area of the brain to lose access to the nourishment it would normally receive. This cutoff from its usual supply of blood causes the deprived part of the brain to die.
The effects on the patient depend in large part upon which area of the brain is deprived of oxygen. For example, the general areas of the brain that can be affected by stroke include the areas that govern speech, motor function, sensory function, hearing, language comprehension, emotions, vision, and balance. An interesting detail about the way that the brain controls the body is that the right and left hemispheres of the brain control opposite sides of the body – so, for instance, the left hemisphere controls the right side of the body and is associated with figuring out science problems, math, and with number skills. The right hemisphere is associated with artistic skills, creativity, and other features.
An ischemic stroke is the term used when a blood clot blocks an artery, thereby cutting off the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a part of the brain. This type of stroke is the most common, but unfortunately, it is also the type where survivors are most likely to have problems using certain parts of their bodies. The second type of stroke is called a hemorrhagic stroke, and occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts and spills blood into the brain. Brain aneurysms and high blood pressure can cause these types of stroke to occur.
There are several ways to reduce the risk of a stroke. For one, patients should monitor their own blood pressure and make sure that their doctor does as well – high blood pressure is an important risk factor for stroke. Second, patients should consult a qualified cardiologist if they have atrial fibrillation (and irregular heartbeat that can make blood pool or form clots more easily). Patients who smoke should try to quit as soon as possible, and those that drink should do so only in moderation. Overweight patients or those with high cholesterol should work on lowering their total cholesterol numbers as well as their body weight; diabetic patients should keep their disease under control as much as they are able. Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables along with including plenty of exercise are recommended as well for all patients.