Stroke: Know the warning signs, act fast

A stroke, or “brain attack,” occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted by a clot or blood vessel that bursts. Within minutes, nerve cells in the brain that control speaking, thinking and walking are damaged or begin to die. Getting emergency treatment for a stroke within the first three hours is critical for saving lives and preventing disabilities.

If you, or someone you're with, experience the symptoms of stroke, don't wait. Call 9-1-1 right away.

What is a Stroke?

A stroke, or "brain attack," occurs when a clot blocks a blood vessel or artery, or when a blood vessel breaks, interrupting blood flow to an area of the brain. If blood is obstructed for more than a few minutes, the injury sustained by the brain cells becomes permanent and results in cell death. This causes loss of control in abilities such as speech, movement, and memory.

What Are the Warning Signs of Stroke?

The most common symptoms of stroke are sudden:

  • Numbness in the face, arms or legs, especially on one side of the body
  • Confusion or trouble speaking
  • Dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden, severe headache

Sometimes warning signs may only last a few minutes; or they may disappear. These brief episodes, known as transient ischemic attacks or TIAs, are sometimes called “mini-strokes.” Don't ignore a TIA; it is usually a precursor to a full stroke.

What Are the Risk Factors of Stroke?

Some risk factors for stroke – including family history, age and race – cannot be controlled. But reducing or eliminating other risk factors may save your life.

  • High blood pressure is the single most controllable risk factor for stroke. Check your blood pressure often – 130/85 is a good goal. If your physician tells you your blood pressure is high, follow his or her advice to get it lower.
  • Know your cholesterol numbers. High cholesterol can be controlled with diet, exercise and, in some cases, medication.
  • Heart disease, especially atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat), causes blood to pool in the heart. Pooled blood may form clots and be carried to the brain.
  • Stop smoking. No matter how long or how much you've smoked, quitting will lower your risk dramatically.
  • Diabetes can damage blood vessels, including those leading to the brain. Work with your physician to manage blood sugar.
  • Physical inactivity leads to other risk factors such as high cholesterol and diabetes. Get at least 30 minutes of exercise daily.
  • Sleep apnea is a disorder in which the throat closes off throughout the night and has recently been linked to heart disease and stroke.

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