A stroke occurs when a clot blocks a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain or when a clot bursts.  When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood and oxygen it needs, so brain cells die.

Stroke Facts

  • Strokes are the fifth leading cause of death in the United States
  • Strokes are the number one cause of disability in the United States but the leading preventable cause of disability
  • On average, a stroke occurs every 40 seconds
  • Every four minutes someone dies of stroke
  • 40 percent of stroke deaths occur in males and 60 percent in females
  • African Americans have nearly twice the risk for strokes than Caucasians

Source:  http://www.heart.org/idc/groups/ahamah-public/@wcm/@sop/@smd/documents/downloadable/ucm_480086.pdf

Types of Strokes

There are three types of strokes:

  1. Ischemic (clots): Occurs as a result of an obstruction within a blood vessel supplying blood to the brain.  This type of stroke accounts for 87 percent of all stroke cases
  2. Hemorrhagic (Bleeds): Occurs when a weakened blood vessel ruptures.  Two types of weakened blood vessels usually cause hemorrhagic stroke:
    1. Aneurysms
    2. Arteriovenous

But the most common cause of hemorrhagic stroke is uncontrolled hypertension (high blood pressure).

  1. TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack): Caused by a temporary clot.  Often called a “mini stroke,” these warning strokes should be taken very seriously.

Symptoms of Strokes:

F.A.S.T. is an easy way to remember the sudden signs of strokes:

  • Face drooping: Does one’s face droop, or is it numb?  Is the person’s face uneven?
  • 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?  Is a person hard to understand or unable to speak?
  • Time to call 9-1-1: If someone shows any of these symptoms, call 9-1-1, and get the person to the hospital.  Make sure to check the time so you know when the first symptoms appeared.

arm weakness sign of a stroke

Diagnoses of Strokes

When someone has a stroke, a doctor will get a medical history, perform a physical and neurological examination and/or diagnostic tests, such as imaging tests, electrical activity tests and/or blood flow tests.

Common imaging tests are CT scans and MRI’s.  Electrical activity tests consist of an EEG and/or an Evoked Response test.

Risk Factors for Strokes

 There are many risk factors for strokes that can’t be changed, including:

  • Age
  • Heredity
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Prior stroke or heart attack

 However, there are many risk factors that can be treated, changed or controlled.  These include:

  • High Blood Pressure: HBP is the leading cause of stroke and the most important controllable risk factor for stroke.
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Diabetes: Many people with diabetes also have HBP, high blood cholesterol or are overweight.
  • Carotid or other artery disease: The carotid arteries in your neck supply blood to your brain.  A carotid artery narrowed by fatty deposits from plaque buildup in artery walls may become blocked by a blood clot.
  • Peripheral Artery Disease: This is the narrowing of blood vessels carrying blood to leg and arm muscles.  It’s caused by fatty buildups of plaque in artery walls.
  • Atrial Fibrillation: This heart rhythm disorder raises the risk for stroke.  The heart’s upper chambers quiver instead of beating effectively, which can let the blood pool and clot.   If a clot breaks off, enters the bloodstream and lodges in an artery leading to the brain, a stroke results.
  • Sickle Cell Disease: This is a genetic disorder that mainly affects African-American and Hispanic children. “Sickled” red blood cells are less able to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues and organs. These cells also tend to stick to blood vessel walls, which can block arteries to the brain and cause a stroke.
  • High Blood Cholesterol
  • Poor diet: Diets high in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol can raise blood cholesterol levels.  Diets high in sodium can contribute to increased blood pressure. Diets with excess calories can contribute to obesity, all which can increase the risk of strokes.
  • Physical inactivity and obesity

Prevention of Strokes

Strokes are 80 percent preventable.  It starts with managing the above mentioned risk factors, including high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, atrial fibrillation and physical inactivity.  More than half of all strokes are caused by uncontrolled high blood pressure, making it the most important risk factor to control.

Medical treatments may be used to control high blood pressure and manage atrial fibrillation among high-risk patients.

When arteries show plaque buildup or blockage, medical procedures may be needed.

Reynolds Memorial Hospital

May is American Stroke Month.  Strokes are largely preventable, so awareness and education is key.  The healthcare providers at Reynolds Memorial Hospital are passionate about helping you PREVENT a stroke, as well as caring for you if you’ve suffered a stroke.