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Stroke facts

  • A stroke occurs when part of the brain loses its blood supply and stops working. This causes the part of the body that it controls to stop working as well.
  • A stroke is also called a cerebrovascular accident or CVA.
  • Ischemic strokes occur when a blood vessels becomes occluded. This may be due to a gradual narrowing or because a blood clot travels or embolizes to stop blood flow.
  • A hemorrhagic stroke describes bleeding into brain tissue, most often because of uncontrolled high blood pressure.
  • A stroke is a medical emergency. The patient or family needs to call 9-1-1 (activate EMS) to access emergency care.
  • From onset of symptoms, there is only a 3 to 4 1/2 hour window to use clot-busting drugs (thrombolytics) to try to restore blood supply to the affected part of the brain.
  • Remember FAST: Face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty, time to call 9-1-1.
  • A transient ischemic attack or a TIA, describes a stroke that resolves usually within minutes. This is a warning sign that a stroke may occur in the near future.
  • People at risk for stroke include those who have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and those who smoke. People with heart rhythm disturbances are also at risk.

What is a stroke?

A stroke, also known as a cerebrovascular accident or CVA, occurs when part of the brain loses its blood supply and the part of the body that the blood-deprived brain cells control stops working. This loss of blood supply can be ischemic because of lack of blood flow, or hemorrhagic because of bleeding into brain tissue. A stroke is a medical emergency because strokes can lead to death or permanent disability, plus there are now opportunities to treat ischemic strokes but that treatment needs to be started in the first few hours after the signs of a stroke begin. The patient, family, or bystanders, should call 9-1-1 and activate emergency medical services immediately should a stroke be suspected.

A transient ischemic attack (TIA or mini-stroke) describes an ischemic stroke that is short-lived where the symptoms resolve spontaneously. This situation also requires emergency assessment to try to minimize the risk of a future stroke. By definition, a stroke would be classified as a TIA if all symptoms resolved within 24 hours.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/4/2015

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Stroke signs and prevention

Stroke Symptoms and Signs

Each year about 500,000 people in the United States suffer a first stroke, and a further 200,000 people have a recurrent stroke. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the U.S., and also is a major cause of disability and loss of independence and quality of life. Up to 40% of strokes are fatal, but the risks of death from a stroke and the degree of disability can both be significantly reduced by prompt treatment.

Strokes result from impaired oxygen delivery to brain cells via the bloodstream. The oxygen-deprived brain cells die and result in various neurological impairments, depending on the area of the brain that is involved. A stroke is also referred to as a cerebrovascular accident or CVA. The blood supply to the brain can be interrupted both by a blockage in one of the arteries that supply blood to the brain, or a rupture of a blood vessel within the brain. Stroke caused by blockage of an artery is called ischemic stroke, while stroke caused by rupture of an artery is called a hemorrhagic stroke. Ischemic stroke is much more common than hemorrhagic stroke.