Stroke

What is a Stroke?
During a stroke, blood stops flowing to part of the brain. This can damage areas in the brain that control the rest of the body. Get help right away if any of these symptoms come on suddenly, even if the symptoms don’t last.

Know the Symptoms of a Stroke

  • Weakness You may feel weakness, tingling, or a loss of feeling on one side of your face or body.
  • Vision Problems You may have sudden double vision or trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Speech Problems You may have sudden trouble talking, slurred speech, or problems understanding others.
  • Headache You may have a sudden, severe headache.
  • Movement Problems You may experience dizziness, a feeling of spinning, a loss of balance, a feeling of falling, or blackouts.

REMEMBER: If you have any of these symptoms, call 911 and your doctor as soon as possible.

What's the urgency for treatment?
Every minute counts when it comes to treating a stroke. The longer a stroke goes untreated, the greater the damage and potential disability. The success of most treatments depends on how soon a person is seen by a doctor in a hospital emergency room after signs and symptoms begin. Read the article, "Millions of brain cells die each minute a stroke is untreated," from the American Heart Association for more information about why fast action is so important.

What risk factors for stroke can be controlled or treated?

High blood pressure — High blood pressure (140/90 mm Hg or higher) is the most important risk factor for stroke.  It usually has no specific symptoms and no early warning signs. That’s why everybody should have their blood pressure checked regularly.

Tobacco use — Cigarette smoking is a major, preventable risk factor for stroke. The nicotine and carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke reduce the amount of oxygen in your blood. They also damage the walls of blood vessels, making clots more likely to form. Using some kinds of birth control pills combined with smoking cigarettes greatly increases stroke risk.  If you smoke, get help to quit NOW!

Diabetes mellitus — Diabetes is defined as a fasting plasma glucose (blood sugar) of 126 mg/dL or more measured on two occasions. While diabetes is treatable, having it still increases a person's risk of stroke. Many people with diabetes also have high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and are overweight. This increases their risk even more. If you have diabetes, work closely with your doctor to manage it.

Carotid or other artery disease — The carotid arteries in your neck supply blood to your brain. A carotid artery narrowed by fatty deposits from atherosclerosis (plaque buildups in artery walls) may become blocked by a blood clot. Carotid artery disease is also called carotid artery stenosis.

People with peripheral artery disease have a higher risk of carotid artery disease, which raises their risk of stroke. Peripheral artery disease is the narrowing of blood vessels carrying blood to leg and arm muscles. It's caused by fatty buildups of plaque in artery walls.

Atrial fibrillation — This heart rhythm disorder raises the risk for stroke. The heart's upper chambers quiver instead of beating effectively, which can let the blood pool and clot. If a clot breaks off, enters the bloodstream and lodges in an artery leading to the brain, a stroke results.

Other heart disease — People with coronary heart disease or heart failure have a higher risk of stroke than those with hearts that work normally. Dilated cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart), heart valve disease and some types of congenital heart defects also raise the risk of stroke.

Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) — TIAs are "warning strokes" that produce stroke-like symptoms but no lasting damage. Recognizing and treating TIAs can reduce your risk of a major stroke. It's very important to recognize the warning signs of a TIA or stroke. Call 9-1-1 to get medical help immediately if they occur.

Certain blood disorders — A high red blood cell count thickens the blood and makes clots more likely. This raises the risk of stroke. Doctors may treat this problem by removing blood cells or prescribing "blood thinners."

Sickle cell disease (also called sickle cell anemia) is a genetic disorder that mainly affects African Americans. "Sickled" red blood cells are less able to carry oxygen to the body's tissues and organs. They also tend to stick to blood vessel walls, which can block arteries to the brain and cause a stroke.

High blood cholesterol — A high level of total cholesterol in the blood (240 mg/dL or higher) is a major risk factor for heart disease, which raises your risk of stroke. Recent studies show that high levels of  LDL ("bad") cholesterol (greater than 100 mg/dL) and triglycerides (blood fats, 150 mg/dL or higher) increase the risk of stroke in people with previous coronary heart disease, ischemic stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA). Low levels (less than 40 mg/dL for men; less than 50 mg/dL for women) of HDL ("good") cholesterol also may raise stroke risk.

Physical inactivity and obesity — Being inactive, obese or both can increase your risk of high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. So go on a brisk walk, take the stairs, and do whatever you can to make your life more active. Try to get a total of at least 30 minutes of activity on most or all days.

Excessive alcohol — Drinking an average of more than one alcoholic drink a day for women or more than two drinks a day for men can raise blood pressure and may increase risk for stroke.

Some illegal drugs — Intravenous drug abuse carries a high risk of stroke. Cocaine use has been linked to strokes and heart attacks. Some have been fatal even in first-time users.

What are the risk factors for stroke you can't change?

Increasing age — People of all ages, including children, have strokes. But the older you are, the greater your isk for stroke.

Sex (gender) — Stroke is more common in men than in women. In most age groups, more men than women will have a stroke in a given year. However, women account for more than half of all stroke deaths. Women who are pregnant have a higher stroke risk. So do women taking birth control pills who also smoke or have high blood pressure or other risk factors.

Heredity (family history) and race — Your stroke risk is greater if a parent, grandparent, sister or brother has had a stroke. African Americans have a much higher risk of death from a stroke than Caucasians do. This is partly because blacks have higher risks of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.

Prior stroke or heart attack — Someone who has had a stroke is at much higher risk of having another one. If you've had a heart attack, you're at higher risk of having a stroke, too.

Go to the American Stroke Association for more information.