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Understanding Stroke

According to the National Stroke Association, stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in America and a leading cause of adult disability. Research shows that too few people know what a stroke is or how to recognize when a stroke is happening.

What is a Stroke?

A stroke is a “brain attack”. It can happen to anyone at any time. It occurs when blood flow to an area of the brain is cut off. When this happens, brain cells are deprived of oxygen and begin to die. When brain cells die during a stroke, abilities controlled by the area of the brain such as memory and muscle control are lost.

How a person is affected by their stroke depends on where the stroke occurs in the brain and how much the brain is damaged. For example, someone who had a small stroke may only have minor problems such as temporary weakness of an arm or leg. People who have larger strokes may be permanently paralyzed on one side of their body or lose the ability to speak. Some people recover completely from strokes, but more than 2/3 of survivors will have some type of disability.

What is TIA?

When blood flow to part of the brain stops for a short period of time, also called transient ischemic attack (TIA), it can mimic stroke-like symptoms. These symptoms appear and last less than 24 hours before disappearing. While TIAs generally do not cause permanent brain damage, they are a serious warning sign that a stroke may happen in the future and should not be ignored.

Signs and Symptoms of Stroke

Knowing the signs and symptoms of a stroke is the first step in ensuring medical help is received immediately. For each minute a stroke goes untreated and blood flow to the brain continues to be blocked, a person loses about 1.9 million neurons. This could mean that a person’s speech, movement, memory and so much more can be affected.

Stokes Symptoms Include

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the bod

  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding

  • Sudden seeing in one or both eyes

  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination

  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause

Call 911 immediately if you observe any of these symptoms. Note the time of the first symptom. This information is important and can affect treatment decisions.


FAST is an easy way to remember and identify the most common symptoms of a stroke. Recognition of a stroke and calling 911 will determine how quickly someone will receive help and treatment. Getting to a hospital rapidly will more likely lead to a better recovery.

Use FAST to Remember the Warning Signs Of a Stroke

F – FACE: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

A – ARMS: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S – SPEECH: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?

T – TIME: IF you observe any of these signs, call 911 immediately

Lifestyle Risk Factors

Lifestyle risk factors such as diet and exercise are part of controllable risk factors. Lifestyle risk factors are habits or behaviors people choose to engage in. If changed, they can directly affect some medical risk factors by improving them.

Medical Risk Factors

High blood pressure, atrial fibrillation (afib), high cholesterol, diabetes and circulation problems are all medical risk factors which are controllable, for a stroke. Medical risk factors are treatable by medications and special diets. Talk to your healthcare professional about options available and together come up with a plan that’s best for you.

Uncontrollable Risk Factors

Some risk factors for stroke are simple not controllable. But knowing what they are is still important in determining your overall risk for stroke.

Impact of Stroke

With a population that is growing older, it is estimated that by 2030, 72 million people will be 65 and older. The future population will not only be older but more racially and ethnically diverse.

Women and Stroke

Stroke risk for women is higher than men.

Pediatric Stroke

Stroke can happen at any time to anyone including teenagers, children, newborns and unborn babies. The risk of stroke is greatest in the first year of life and during the period of right before birth or right after birth. Stroke remains among the top 10 causes of death in children.

Minorities and Stroke

Minorities in the U.S. have higher stroke risks, stroke occurrences at an earlier age and for some more severe strokes.

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