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According to the American Heart Association, every 40 seconds, someone
in America has a stroke. Stroke is the fourth leading death of
Americans and a leading cause of severe, long-term disability.
What is a Stroke?
A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to
the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts. When that happens, part
of the brain cannot get the blood and oxygen it needs, so it starts to
Clots that block a blood vessel cause ischemic strokes. This is the most
common type of stroke, accounting for approximately 87 percent of
strokes. Ruptured blood vessels cause hemorrhagic, or bleeding, strokes
and account for 13 percent of strokes.
When part of the brain dies from lack of blood flow, the part of the
body it controls is affected. Strokes can cause paralysis, affect
language and vision, and cause other problems. Treatments are available
to minimize the potentially devastating effects of stroke, but to
receive them, one must recognize the warning signs and act quickly.
If you experience any of the following symptoms, call 911 immediately:
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
Sudden severe headache with no known cause
If you are having a stroke, every minute counts. The faster you get to a
designated stroke center, the better your chances of a full recovery.
Knowing the warning signs and acting quickly greatly increases the
chances of receiving the most effective treatment for any type of
stroke. Because their mechanisms are different, the treatments for the
two types of strokes are different:
Ischemic strokes are treated by removing the clot and restoring
blood flow to the brain. The most promising treatment for
ischemic stroke is the FDA-approved clot busting drug tPA, which
must be administered within three hours of the onset of symptoms
to work best. Generally, only three to five percent of patients
who suffer a stroke reach the hospital in time to be considered
for treatment. That's why it is so important to call 911 as soon
as you begin to experience symptoms.
Hemorrhagic strokes are treated surgically by clipping off or
removing the ruptured or leaking blood vessel.
Risk Factors for Stroke
Risk factors are traits and lifestyle habits that increase the risk of
disease. The more risk factors you have, the greater your chances of
having a stroke. Some risk factors can be changed, and some can't. The
following is a list of risk factors that can be controlled or treated:
High blood pressure—this is the most important
risk factor for stroke. High blood pressure is called the
"Silent Killer" because it usually has no specific symptoms or
early warning signs. That's why it is important to have your
blood pressure checked regularly. If you have high blood
pressure, you should be under the regular care of a health care
provider who can treat and monitor your condition.
Tobacco use—cigarette smoking is a major,
preventable risk factor for stroke. If you smoke, get help to
Diabetes mellitus—diabetes increases a person's
risk of stroke. If you have diabetes, work closely with your
health care provider to keep your blood sugar levels under
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
buildup in artery walls) may become blocked by a blood clot.
Atrial fibrillation—in atrial fibrillation, the
upper chambers of the heart quiver instead of beating normally,
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
whose hearts work normally.
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. If you have any of the symptoms of a
stroke, you should call 9-1-1 immediately.
Certain blood disorders—A high red blood cell
count thickens the blood and makes clots more likely, raising
the risk of stroke. Doctors may treat this problem by removing
blood cells or prescribing "blood thinners." Sickle cell
disease, a genetic disease that affects mainly African
Americans, also raises the risk of 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. High
levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol and triglycerides, and low
levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol also may increase your risk
Physical inactivity and obesity—being inactive,
obese or both can increase your risk of high blood pressure,
high blood cholesterol, heart disease and stroke. Try to get a
total of at least 30 minutes of activity on most or all days.
Excessive alcohol— drinking 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 the risk of
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
Risk Factors that Can't be Changed
Increasing age—people of all ages, even
children, can have strokes. However, the older you are, the
greater your risk of stroke.
Gender—stroke is more common in men than women.
However, women account for more than half of all stroke deaths.
Women who are pregnant have a higher stroke risk. Women who take
birth control pills who also smoke or have high blood pressure
or other risk factors are at increased risk of stroke.
Heredity and race—your stroke risk is higher 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.
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
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