What is a Stroke?
Stroke, also known as a cerebrovascular accident or brain attack, occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is suddenly stopped.
This process is similar to a heart attack. Without oxygen, the nerve cells in the affected area of the brain cannot function and often die. As a result, the parts of the body controlled by that part of the brain are usually unable to work.
There are two main types of stroke. About 80% of strokes are ischemic strokes, which occur when a clot blocks a blood vessel in the brain. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel ruptures in the brain.
Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIA) are temporary blockages in the blood supply to the brain. Sometimes these are called “mini-strokes,” but these need to be taken seriously because they are usually a warning of a future full-blown stroke.
What are the signs and symptoms of a stroke?
Someone having a stroke may experience only one, or several of these warning signs:
- 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
What do I do if I am having a stroke?
If you or someone near you is possibly having a stroke, it is an emergency. Call 9-1-1 immediately!
How is a stroke treated?
Time lost is brain lost. The faster a stroke is diagnosed and treated, the better chance there is of reducing permanent damage and disability.
- Ischemic strokes may be treated with a medication called alteplase that breaks up blood clots in the brain. It works best if given within 4.5 hours after symptoms start. Some large hospitals can perform procedures that physically remove the blood clot.
- Brain surgery is sometimes needed for hemorrhagic strokes.
How can I lower my risk of stroke? 1
High Blood Pressure: The most important risk factor for stroke is high blood pressure, also called hypertension. In 2017, approximately 24% of Minnesota adults report they have high blood pressure.2
High Blood Cholesterol: People with higher levels of total cholesterol are more likely to have ischemic strokes. About 25% of adults in Minnesota report they have high blood cholesterol (2017 data).2
Controlling your blood pressure and high blood cholesterol by making healthier choices and taking medications decreases your chance of having a stroke.
Atrial Fibrillation (AFib): Individuals with AFib – a type of irregular heartbeat -- are four to five times more likely to have an ischemic stroke. More than 5 million Americans have condition.1 If you have AFib, take your medications as prescribed by your doctor.
Tobacco: Smoking doubles the risk of ischemic stroke, and may increase the risk for hemorrhagic stroke up to four times. Exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke nearly doubles the risk of stroke. If you smoke, ask your doctor about ways to quit. In 2017, 14.5% of Minnesota adults were current smokers.2
Physical Inactivity: Daily physical activity reduces the risk of stroke. People who don’t exercise at all are more likely to have a stroke. Approximately 21% of Minnesota adults get enough exercise (2017), and 25% of adults in Minnesota are not physically active at all (2017).2
Overweight and Obesity: Strokes happen more often in people who are overweight or obese. Keeping a healthy weight through exercise and healthy eating improves many stroke risk factors. In Minnesota, 65% of adults are overweight, including more than 28% who are obese (2017).2
Diabetes: Strokes happen two to four times more often in people with diabetes. People with diabetes can lower their risk of stroke by controlling their blood pressure and cholesterol. Approximately 7% of adults in Minnesota have been diagnosed with diabetes (2017).2
What are the risk factors for stroke that cannot be changed? 1,2
Age: Unfortunately, the normal aging process increases stroke risk. The risk of stroke doubles every 10 years after age 55.
Sex: Men are more likely to have a stroke, but a higher number of women have and die from strokes every year. This is because women live longer than men and strokes are more common as you get older.
Race/Ethnicity: African Americans are 1.5 to 2 times more likely to have a stroke than whites. This is because of higher rates of diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure in this group.
Family History: A person is more likely to have a stroke if they have a family member who has had a stroke. Family members share genes, cultures, lifestyles, and environments that together may increase their risk of stroke.
1 Benjamin EJ., et al. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics – 2019 Update: A report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2019: 139:e1-e473.
2 Minnesota Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, Age-adjusted prevalence.