Just the word “stroke” is ominous, and for good reason. Strokes are the No. 5 cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the US.
Also called a brain attack, a stroke occurs when there’s a sudden interruption of blood flow to the brain, either because of a blockage (ischemic stroke) or a burst blood vessel (hemorrhagic stroke). This serious medical condition requires emergency care to increase a person’s chances of survival and lower the risk of long-term disability.
A transient ischemic attack (TIA), also known as a ministroke or warning stroke, is a warning sign of a future ischemic stroke. About one-third of people who have a TIA and don’t get treatment go on to have a full-blown stroke within a year. Here’s what else you need to know about strokes and TIAs.
Stroke Risk Factors
Some risk factors for stroke are under your control, while others are not. Uncontrolled high blood pressure is one of the biggest risk factors for stroke, and research shows that having hemophilia makes a person more likely to develop high blood pressure and at a younger age than the general population. Other stroke factors that you can control, treat or improve on are smoking, diabetes, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle.
Risk factors for stroke that you can’t control are advancing age, family history, gender (women are at increased risk), race (Black and Hispanic people are at increased risk), and having had a prior stroke, TIA or heart attack.
When it comes to strokes, the saying is “time is brain.” Every minute that a stroke goes untreated, an average of 1.9 million brain cells die. That’s why early detection and prompt treatment are so important.
You can remember the main symptoms of a stroke by the acronym FAST:
- FACE DROOPING. Does one side of the face droop, or is it numb? Ask the person to smile.
- ARM WEAKNESS. Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
- SPEECH DIFFICULTY. Is speech slurred, or is he or she unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence such as, “The sky is blue.” Can he or she repeat the sentence correctly?
- TIME TO CALL 911. If any of these symptoms are present, call 911 and get the person to a hospital immediately.
TIAs often cause the same symptoms as full-blown strokes, but because the symptoms usually last only a few minutes, people ignore them.
Other symptoms of both full-blown strokes and TIAs include:
- Weakness, numbness or paralysis on one side of the body
- Slurred speech or difficulty understanding others
- Blindness in one or both eyes
- Severe headache with no apparent cause
If you spot any of the symptoms above in yourself or another person, call 911 immediately, even if the symptoms go away. Check the time so you can let medical responders know when the symptoms appeared. Prompt treatment with medication can help improve blood flow to the brain and prevent long-term damage.