Stroke Overview

Stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted. Without a blood supply to deliver oxygen and nutrients, brain cells in the area of the interruption begin to die.

It’s estimated that more than 700,000 strokes occur each year in the United States. After the age of 55, a person’s risk of having a stroke more than doubles each decade.

Stroke, which is the third leading cause of death in the United States, is also responsible for more serious, long-term disabilities than any other disease. Stroke damage in the brain ranges from mild to severe. Disabilities after a stroke may include paralysis and problems with thinking, speaking, and emotional control.

Ischemic stroke (the most common kind) is caused by a blood clot that blocks a blood vessel that supplies the brain. When blood flow to a portion of the brain is blocked only for a short time, it is called a transient ischemic attack (TIA), or mini-stroke. The damage to the brain cells from a TIA isn’t permanent, but having a TIA greatly increases a person’s risk of having a full-blown stroke. Hemorrhagic stroke (which is less common) happens when a blood vessel in the brain leaks or breaks open and bleeds into the brain.

Symptoms of stroke include sudden onset of one or more of the following listed in this stroke patient education guide:

  • Numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg (especially on one side of the body)
  • Confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Severe headache with no known cause
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