Vascular Abnormalities of the Nervous System

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  • 0:05 Oxygen and the Brain
  • 1:03 A Brain Anuerysm
  • 1:39 What Is a Stroke?
  • 3:56 Transient Ischemic Attack
  • 4:30 Diagnosis and Treatment
  • 6:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson will discuss a lot of different yet similar conditions that affect the brain's vasculature. Namely, we'll cover strokes, transient ischemic attacks, and aneurysms. We'll also discuss why they may occur, how they can be diagnosed, and how they may be treated.

Oxygen and the Brain

The next time you go to fill up your car, think about how it may relate to your brain. I know it sounds crazy, but it's not far off the mark. Your car needs something to power itself: gasoline. The gasoline is piped into your car through a long hose. And your car probably consumes a lot of gasoline in order to do what it needs to, which is to drive.

Very similarly, your brain needs something to power itself: oxygen and glucose. These nutrients are piped into your brain through long hoses called arteries. Your brain is also the largest consumer of oxygen in your body, all in order to do what it needs to do: drive your entire body's processes.

This lesson will show you how critical the vascular system that supplies your nervous system - namely your brain - with oxygen is to your body as we explore the conditions that can affect them and ultimately your life.

A Brain Aneurysm

One condition that can affect your brain's supply of oxygen-rich blood is known as a brain aneurysm. This is a widening or ballooning out of an artery due to a weakened vessel wall. Everything from genetics to smoking to high blood pressure to cholesterol and beyond can predispose an individual to this potentially deadly condition.

You can imagine the hose that supplies the gas to your car all of a sudden expanding and ballooning out in one portion of the hose. That's what happens to an artery supplying your brain in this condition.

What Is a Stroke?

In some cases, a brain aneurysm may actually lie undetected and cause no problems. However, in serious cases that ballooning of the arteries will lead the balloon to pop, resulting in a stroke. A stroke, also known as a cerebrovascular accident, is a condition whereupon the brain is unable to function properly due to a loss of oxygen and nutrients carried to it by blood vessels, resulting in rapid brain cell death.

What Is a Hemorrhagic Stroke?

Specifically, the type of stroke that occurs when a brain aneurysm bursts is known as a hemorrhagic stroke. This is when a blood vessel bursts inside the brain and begins to bleed out. It's like that hose connected to your car all of a sudden bursts and sprays gasoline everywhere. In that case, your car won't get any gasoline and won't be able to run properly. The same deal happens with your brain. One special type of condition that can lead to a hemorrhagic stroke is known as an arteriovenous malformation. This is often a genetic condition that causes the abnormal connection of arteries and veins in the brain.

What Is an Ischemic Stroke?

The other type of stroke that can occur is called an ischemic stroke and results not due to the bursting of a blood vessel but because of something like a blockage within the vessel caused by a thrombus or embolus. This causes a deficiency in the supply of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the brain.

Just for reference's sake, a thrombus is essentially a blood clot, whereas an embolus is a particle, often times a little clot that has broken off of a bigger thrombus, that has traveled to another place in a person's body, lodged itself in an artery, and blocked up the blood supply. If no oxygen and glucose is delivered to the brain cells, they begin to starve and die very quickly.

Going back to our example, the hose, in this case, doesn't burst as with hemorrhagic stroke but instead gets clogged up with debris and is, therefore, unable to deliver any gasoline into the car. In either case of stroke, brain cells die, resulting in symptoms and signs that include incoordination, headaches, and paralysis, as well as a sudden difficulty talking, thinking, seeing, and walking.

Transient Ischemic Attack

Another similar event is known as a transient ischemic attack, which is a short-lived episode of ischemia to the brain. It's sometimes called a mini-stroke because it doesn't last long, doesn't cause permanent damage to the brain as a result of brain cell death, and can serve as a warning to a person that they need help in order to prevent a true ischemic stroke from occurring. Remember, an ischemic stroke is one that reduces the blood flow and therefore the supply of critical oxygen and glucose to the brain due to something like a clot.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Whenever any vascular abnormality in the brain is suspected, ischemic or otherwise, it must be taken very seriously. One false move, one little delay, and you could be dead or permanently paralyzed and brain damaged.

To diagnose any one of these types of cerebrovascular conditions, a doctor will perform a neurological exam, ask that a CT scan or MRI scan be performed to look inside your head and see exactly what is going on, and may perform an angiogram. The latter is a procedure where a special dye is used to help visualize your blood vessels in the brain.

Other diagnostic procedures may be used as well to look at structures like the heart. You might be confused as to why we need to do that since the brain, not the heart, is affected, but you need to start thinking like a doctor. Physiology isn't a system of isolated organs; it's a collection of systems in constant flux.

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