Stroke is the third leading cause of death in adults. Stroke is the leading cause of adult disability. Many first and recurring strokes are preventable with lifestyle changes and medication.
In the United States there are over 500,000 new and approximately 200,000 recurring strokes every year.
A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is suddenly slowed or stopped or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, spilling blood into the spaces surrounding brain cells. Brain cells die when they no longer receive oxygen and nutrients from the blood or there is sudden bleeding into or around the brain. There are two forms of stroke: ischemic – blockage of a blood vessel supplying the brain, and hemorrhagic – bleeding into or around the brain. Both forms require immediate care in an Emergency Department, preferably in a Joint Commission Certified Primary Stroke Center.
Every minute after the onset of stroke can lead to irreparable damage to the brain. After the onset of symptoms, you have a limited time to reach the Emergency Department and be eligible for current medical treatment. Do not delay, seek help immediately and remember, TIME IS BRAIN!
Stroke Signs & Symptoms
Stroke is a medical emergency. Know these warning signs of stroke and teach them to others. Every second counts:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body;
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding;
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes;
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination;
- Sudden, severe headache with no known cause.
If you experience any of the above symptoms, seek help immediately! Do not wait; Dial 911 or use the fastest means to reach the nearest Emergency Department.
High blood pressure (hypertension)
Chronically elevated blood pressure is the most common risk factor for stroke.
Too much of this soft, waxy substance, found in cells and in the bloodstream, increases risk for stroke. Even low HDL (“good”) cholesterol has been identified as a risk factor in men.
The nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke damage the cardiovascular system, making smoking a significant risk factor.
While inability to produce or use insulin is a treatable disease, it still increases the risk of stroke. Also, many diabetics are overweight and may have high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol.
is a danger of stroke when plaque builds up in the arteries of the neck (carotid artery stenosis), because a blood clot here could block blood flow to the brain.
Irregular heart rhythm (atrial fibrillation) raises the risk for stroke, because it can cause blood to pool and clot. A blood clot could then break off, enter the bloodstream and block an artery leading to the brain. An enlarged heart (dilated cardiomyopathy), heart valve disease and some types of congenital heart defects also raise the risk.
Sickle cell anemia
"Sickled" red blood cells are less able to carry oxygen, and they also tend to stick to blood vessel walls, which can block arteries to the brain. This is a genetic disorder that affects mainly African-American and Hispanic children.
Food high in saturated fat and trans fat can raise cholesterol levels. Food high in sodium can contribute to high blood pressure, and food with too many calories can lead to obesity – all risk factors for stroke.
Lack of physical exercise and obesity can increase blood pressure and cholesterol, and lead to diabetes and heart disease – all risk factors for stroke.
The chance of having a stroke more than doubles for each decade after age 55.
Risk is greater if a sibling, parent or grandparent has had a stroke.
African-Americans have a higher risk of death from stroke because they also have a greater risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.
Stroke is more common in men than women, yet more women die of the disease. Use of birth control pills and pregnancy increase risk for women, as does the combination of oral contraceptives and smoking.
Prior stroke or heart attack
Having already had a stroke or heart attack increases risk. And a transient ischemic attack (TIA) – which produces temporary stroke-like symptoms – can increase risk tenfold.