What is a stroke?
A stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures and bleeds, or when there’s a blockage in the blood supply to the brain. The rupture or blockage prevents blood and oxygen from reaching the brain’s tissues.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States. Every year, more than 795,000 U.S. people have a stroke.
Without oxygen, brain cells and tissue become damaged and begin to die within minutes.
The loss of blood flow to the brain damages tissues within the brain. Symptoms of a stroke show up in the body parts controlled by the damaged areas of the brain.
The sooner a person having a stroke gets care, the better their outcome is likely to be. For this reason, it’s helpful to know the signs of a stroke so you can act quickly.
Stroke symptoms can include:
- numbness or weakness in the arm, face, and leg, especially on one side of the body
- trouble speaking or understanding speech
- slurring speech
- vision problems, such as trouble seeing in one or both eyes with vision blackened or blurred, or double vision
- trouble walking
- loss of balance or coordination
- severe, sudden headache with an unknown cause
A stroke requires immediate medical attention. If you think you or someone else is having a stroke, have someone call 911 right away. Prompt treatment is key to preventing the following outcomes:
- brain damage
- long-term disability
It’s better to be safe than sorry when dealing with a stroke, so don’t be afraid to call 911 if you think you recognize the signs of a stroke. Act FAST and learn to recognize the signs of stroke.
What causes a stroke?
The cause of a stroke depends on the type of stroke. The three main types of stroke are transient ischemic attack (TIA), ischemic stroke, and hemorrhagic stroke.
A TIA is caused by a temporary blockage in an artery that leads to the brain. The blockage, typically a blood clot, stops blood from flowing to certain parts of the brain. A TIA typically lasts for a few minutes up to a few hours, and then the blockage moves and blood flow is restored.
Like a TIA, an ischemic stroke is caused by a blockage in an artery that leads to the brain. This blockage may be a blood clot, or it may be caused by atherosclerosis. With this condition, plaque (a fatty substance) builds up on the walls of a blood vessel. A piece of the plaque can break off and lodge in an artery, blocking the flow of blood and causing an ischemic stroke.
A hemorrhagic stroke, on the other hand, is caused by a burst or leaking blood vessel. Blood seeps into or around the tissues of the brain, causing pressure and damaging brain cells.
There are two possible causes of a hemorrhagic stroke.
- An aneurysm (a weakened, bulging section of a blood vessel) can be caused by high blood pressure and can lead to a burst blood vessel.
- Less often, a condition called an arteriovenous malformation, which is an abnormal connection between your veins and arteries, can lead to bleeding in the brain. Keep reading about the causes of different types of strokes.
Risk factors for stroke
Certain risk factors make you more susceptible to stroke. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to have a stroke. Risk factors for stroke include:
An unhealthy diet that increases your risk of stroke is one that’s high in:
- saturated fats
- trans fats
Inactivity, or lack of exercise, can also raise your risk for stroke.
Regular exercise has a number of health benefits. The CDC recommends that adults get at least 2.5 hours of aerobic exercise every week. This can mean simply a brisk walk a few times a week.
- Alcohol consumption
Your risk for stroke also increases if you drink too much alcohol. Alcohol consumption should be done in moderation. This means no more than one drink per day for women, and no more than two for men. More than that may raise blood pressure levels as well as triglyceride levels, which can cause atherosclerosis.
- Tobacco use
Using tobacco in any form also raises your risk for stroke, since it can damage your blood vessels and heart. This is further increased when smoking, because your blood pressure rises when you use nicotine.
- Personal background
There are certain personal risk factors for stroke that you can’t control. Stroke risk can be linked to your:
- Family history. Stroke risk is higher in some families because of genetic health issues, such as high blood pressure.
- According to the CDC, while both women and men can have strokes, they’re more common in women than in men in all age groups.
- The older you are, the more likely you are to have a stroke.
- Race and ethnicity.Caucasians, Asian Americans, and Hispanics are less likely to have a stroke than African-Americans, Alaska Natives, and American Indians.
- Health history
Certain medical conditions are linked to stroke risk. These include:
- a previous stroke or TIA
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- heart disorders, such as coronary artery disease
- heart valve defects
- enlarged heart chambers and irregular heartbeats
- sickle cell disease
To find out about your specific risk factors for stroke, talk to your doctor
How to prevent a stroke
You can take steps to help prevent stroke by living a healthy lifestyle. This includes the following measures:
- Quit smoking. If you smoke, quitting now will lower your risk for stroke.
- Consume alcohol in moderation. If you drink excessively, try to reduce your intake. Alcohol consumption can raise your blood pressure.
- Keep weight down. Keep your weight at a healthy level. Being obese or overweight increases your stroke risk. To help manage your weight:
- Eat a diet that’s full of fruits and vegetables.
- Eat foods low in cholesterol, trans fats, and saturated fats.
- Stay physically active. This will help you maintain a healthy weight and help reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- Get checkups. Stay on top of your health. This means getting regular checkups and staying in communication with your doctor. Be sure to take the following steps to manage your health:
- Get your cholesterol and blood pressure checked.
- Talk to your doctor about modifying your lifestyle.
- Discuss your medication options with your doctor.
- Address any heart problems you may have.
- If you have diabetes, take steps to manage it.
Taking all these measures will help put you in better shape to prevent stroke.
For more information go to www.healthline.com.