A stroke is serious, just like a heart attack, so it’s important to know the signs of stroke and act quickly if you suspect someone is having one. Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, and causes more serious long-term disabilities than any other disease. Older people are at higher risk. You can take steps to lower your chance of having a stroke.

Know the Signs of Stroke

Knowing the symptoms of a stroke and acting quickly could mean the difference between life and disability or death.

Call 911 right away if you see or have any of these symptoms:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg—especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden problems seeing in one eye or both eyes
  • Sudden dizziness, loss of balance or coordination, or trouble walking
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause
  • Other danger signs that may occur include double vision, drowsiness, and nausea or vomiting.

A stroke happens when something changes how blood flows through the brain. Blood brings oxygen and nutrients to brain cells. If blood can’t flow to a part of the brain, cells that do not receive enough oxygen suffer and eventually die. If brain cells are without oxygen for only a short time, they can sometimes get better. But brain cells that have died can’t be brought back to life. So, someone who has had a stroke may have trouble speaking, thinking, or walking.

There are two major types of stroke. The most common kind, ischemic, is caused by a blood clot or the narrowing of a blood vessel (an artery) leading to the brain. This keeps blood from flowing into other parts of the brain and keeps needed oxygen and nutrients from reaching brain cells. Blockages that cause ischemic strokes stem from three conditions:

Some risk factors for stroke, like age, race, and family history, can’t be controlled. But you can make changes to lower your risk of stroke. Talk to your doctor about what you can do. Even if you’re in perfect health, follow these suggestions:

  • Control your blood pressure. Have your blood pressure checked often. If it is high, follow your doctor’s advice to lower it.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking increases your risk for stroke. It’s never too late to quit.
  • Control your cholesterol. If you have high cholesterol, work with your doctor to lower it.
  • Eat healthy foods. Eat foods that are low in cholesterol and saturated fats. Include a variety of fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Exercise regularly. Try to make physical activity a part of your everyday life.

Someone who has had a stroke might be paralyzed or have weakness, usually on one side of the body. He or she might have trouble speaking or using words. There could be swallowing problems. There might be pain or numbness.

Stroke may cause problems with thinking, awareness, attention, learning, judgment, and memory. Someone who has had a stroke might feel depressed or find it hard to control emotions. Post-stroke depression may be more than general sadness resulting from the stroke incident. It is a serious behavioral problem that can hamper recovery and rehabilitation and may even lead to suicide.

For More Information on Stroke

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
1-800-352-9424 (toll-free)|

National Stroke Association
1-800-787-6537 (toll-free)

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