Health Topics

Stroke: Information You Should Know

Stroke Information: What is a stroke?

A stroke, sometimes called a "brain attack," occurs when blood flow to an area in the brain is cut off. The brain cells, deprived of the oxygen and glucose needed to survive, die. If not caught early, permanent brain damage can result from a stroke.

How does a stroke occur?

There are two types of stroke:

  1. Ischemic stroke is similar to a heart attack, except ischemic stroke occurs in the blood vessels of the brain. Clots can form either in the brain’s blood vessels, in blood vessels leading to the brain or even blood vessels elsewhere in the body which then travel to the brain. These clots block blood flow to the brain’s cells. Ischemic stroke can also occur when too much plaque (fatty deposits and cholesterol) clogs the brain’s blood vessels. About 80% of all strokes are of this nature.
  2. Hemorrhagic (heh-more-raj-ik) strokes occur when a blood vessel in the brain breaks or ruptures. The result is blood seeping into the brain tissue, causing damage to brain cells. The most common causes of hemorrhagic stroke are high blood pressure and brain aneurysms. An aneurysm is a weakness or thinness in the blood vessel wall.

What are the signs of stroke?

The most common symptoms of stroke are:

  • weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg on one side of the body
  • loss of vision or dimming (like a curtain falling) in one or both eyes
  • loss of speech, difficulty talking or understanding what others are saying, sudden, severe headache with no known cause
  • loss of balance, unstable walking, usually combined with another symptom of stroke

What should I do if I experience stroke symptoms?

Immediately call 911. Stroke is an emergency. Immediate treatment can save your life or increase your chances of a full recovery.

Are strokes preventable?

Up to 50% of all strokes are preventable. Many risk factors can be controlled before they cause problems.

Controllable Risk Factors

  • High blood pressure (High = greater than 140/90 mm/Hg)
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • High total cholesterol ( ³ 200 mg/dL)
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol (more than one drink per day)
  • Being overweight
  • Existing carotid and/or coronary artery disease

Uncontrollable Risk Factors

  • Age (>65)
  • Gender (Men have more strokes, women have deadlier strokes)
  • Race (African-Americans are at increased risk)
  • Family History of Stroke

Your doctor can evaluate your risk for stroke and help you control your risk factors. Sometimes, people experience warning signs before a stroke occurs. These are called transient ischemic attacks (also called TIA or "mini-stroke") and are short, brief episodes of the stroke symptoms listed above. Some people have no symptoms warning you prior to a stroke, or symptoms are so mild they are not noticeable. Regular check-ups are important in catching problems before they become serious. Report any symptoms or risk factors to your doctor.