Stroke is a disease that affects the blood vessels leading to and within the brain. It is the fourth-highest cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States.
A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot (ischemic stroke) or bursts (hemorrhagic stroke). When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood (and oxygen) it needs, so it starts to die. About 87 percent of strokes are ischemic.
Stroke risk factors are:
- Aging; risk increases with age
- Cigarette smoking; risk for young women who smoke and use oral contraceptives is substantially increased
- Prior stroke, transient ischemic attack (TIA), a "warning stroke" that produces stroke-like symptoms that resolve or disappear on their own, or heart attack
- Race; African-Americans have a much higher risk of death from a stroke than Caucasians
- Gender; stroke is more common in men until women experience menopause
- Heart or blood vessel disease
- Physical inactivity and obesity
According to the American Stroke Association, here are some warning signs of stroke:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause
Treatment Time is Critical
To check for signs of stroke, the American Stroke Association reminds you to think F-A-S-T:
F - Face droop (ask the person to smile)
A - Arm drift (have the person raise both arms; one may drift downward)
S - Slurred speech (ask the person to read or say a sentence)
T - Time to call 911
The sooner a person is treated, the better the chances of minimizing the effects of the stroke. If you suspect a stroke:
- Do not delay calling 911
- Do not rest, thinking your condition will improve
- Do not drive to the Emergency Room
- Do not go to your doctor’s office
- Get an ambulance; medical treatment is required immediately
The effects of a stroke depend upon which side of the brain is affected. The right side of the brain controls the left side of the body, so a stroke on the right side of the brain could result in paralysis on the left side of the body, vision problems and memory loss.
The left side of the brain controls the right side of the body, so a stroke on the left side of the brain could result in paralysis on the right side of the body, speech and language problems, and memory loss.