What is a stroke?

A stroke is a brain attack. It occurs when an artery bringing blood to the brain becomes blocked or ruptures, depriving part of the brain from receiving the oxygen that it needs. The affected portion of the brain loses function, causing symptoms to appear.

What are the warning signs of a stroke?

Warning signs of a stroke include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause

If you experience any of these warning signs, seek medical attention immediately!

What is a TIA?

TIA stands for transient ischemic attack. A TIA is sometimes called a "warning stroke." It causes a temporary loss of function, lasting a few minutes to several hours. For example, you may have weakness of an arm and/or a leg that eventually goes away. Even though it goes away, a TIA is a serious warning sign of stroke, and you should seek medical attention immediately.

How common is stroke?

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. Stroke occurs more commonly in the older age groups and is more common in people who have already had a stroke or TIA.

What is my chance of having a stroke?

The chance of stroke is increased by a number of things that are called stroke risk factors. Some factors cannot be changed. These include: age (the older a person gets, the greater the risk for stroke), gender (men are at greater risk), race (African Americans are at greater risk), family history and prior strokes or TIAs.

Other risk factors can be modified through treatment or lifestyle changes. Examples of these include: high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, smoking, lack of exercise and excessive alcohol intake.

Things you can do to lower your risk of stroke:

  • Have regular checkups with your doctor to check for stroke risk factors
  • Take part in a stroke screening
  • Make sure to treat high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes if you have any of these conditions
  • Have your cholesterol and lipid levels measured
  • Stop smoking
  • Become physically active
  • Limit your alcohol intake

What do I do if I am having (or someone I'm with is having) symptoms of a stroke?

Call 911 in order to have an ambulance take you to the hospital as quickly as possible. For many adults who sustain a stroke, intervention within a three-hour "golden window" can minimize most damage to the brain. Too often, however symptoms are not recognized soon enough.

A new drug called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) can arrest the effects of stroke by dissolving clots that block vital blood flow to the brain. But it's only effective if it is administered within the crucial three-hour window following the onset of a stroke or TIA. In addition to tPA, other therapies are available but must also be given within hours of the onset of stroke symptoms.