Everyone is concerned regarding the tragic news that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has suffered a major stroke. The term ‘stroke’ simply means ‘shutdown’ due to lack of oxygen, whether due to a clogged blood vessel (ischemic stroke) or due to bleeding within the brain (hemorrhagic stroke). In both situations there is inadequate fresh oxygen reaching the brain. Loss of function (speech, motor skills, cognition, etc.) corresponds to the specific area of the brain damaged.
Patients often experience visual symptoms before stroke occurs. These visual symptoms can be a warning that could save a life.
A little anatomy would be helpful here. Each eye relies on a single artery for oxygen and nutrients, the Ophthalmic Artery. This vessel happens to be the final branch of the critical Internal Carotid Artery – think of it like the last stretch of a very long highway, the end of the road. Anything that affects blood flow to the Ophthalmic Artery automatically affects the vision. For example, small bits of cholesterol (called plaques) can enter the circulation and eventually end up trapped inside the narrow Ophthalmic Artery because it is the end of the line.
These small vascular occlusions often precede more significant vascular blockages. Bigger plaques don’t make it to the Ophthalmic Artery. They block larger branches of the internal carotid that serve the brain. By then it may be too late.
Adults who notice any sudden change to their vision should seek immediate medical attention. Do not wait for things to clear on their own. Time is critical; not merely to treat the vision problem, but also to identify and treat any possible stroke-causing medical emergency.