HEART HEALTHWhat is a Stroke?
A stroke is a serious medical emergency affecting more than 795,000 people every year. It is caused by reduced blood flow to the brain, depriving it of oxygen and nutrients. Strokes are the third-leading cause of death in the United States and the leading cause of long-term disability. Identifying and reducing risk factors will help prevent a stroke, and recognizing and responding to warning signs could save your life.
What is a Stroke?
There are two types of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic.
Your brain needs oxygen-rich blood to survive and function properly. An ischemic stroke occurs when an artery leading to the brain becomes blocked.
Buildup of plaque in the arteries, also known as atherosclerosis, is the leading cause of ischemic stroke. There are two types of ischemic stroke — thrombotic and embolic. A thrombotic stroke occurs when a blood clot forms in an artery leading to the brain. An embolic stroke occurs when a blood clot travels through the arteries to the brain.
A transient ischemic attack (TIA) occurs when a clot forms in an artery to the brain. The only difference is that the blockage is temporary and symptoms last a short period of time. TIA is often a warning that a more serious stroke is imminent.
A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when an artery in the brain breaks open or leaks blood. Pressure builds up in the arteries and damages the brain cells.
There are two types of hemorrhagic stroke, intracerebral and subarachnoid. During an intracerebral stroke, the artery inside the brain leaks or ruptures. When a blood vessel on the surface of the brain leaks or ruptures, it is called a subarachnoid stroke. In both types of hemorrhagic stroke, swelling and pressure damage brain cells and tissue.
What Causes a Stroke?
The best way to protect yourself from a stroke is to understand the risk factors and take steps to keep your body healthy. Age and family history may both increase your chances of a stroke. Other risk factors, such as medical conditions and behavioral risks, will only make matters worse. The most common risk factors for a stroke include:
Common Signs of a Stroke
A stroke is a serious condition that must be treated immediately for the best results. If you or someone you know experiences stroke symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. An easy way to remember sudden signs of a stroke is with the FAST acronym:
- F – Face drooping – Is your face drooping or numb?
- A – Arm weakness – Try to raise your arms. Does one arm feel heavy or drift downward?
- S – Speech difficulty – Is your speech slurred when you try and talk?
- T – Time to seek help! If you or a loved one experience any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately.
Beyond FAST symptoms, you should also look out for sudden numbness on one side of the body, trouble seeing in one or both eyes, or sudden, severe headaches. Recognizing the symptoms and acting on them quickly could save your life.