Stroke: Warning Signs and Risk Factors

Each year in the United States, there are more than 700,000 new strokes. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the country, after heart disease and cancer. And stroke causes more serious long-term disabilities than any other disease. Nearly three-quarters of all strokes occur in people over the age of 65. And the risk of having a stroke more than doubles each decade after the age of 55.

What is a Stroke?

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is suddenly interrupted or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, spilling blood into the spaces surrounding brain cells. Brain cells die when they no longer receive oxygen and nutrients from the blood or there is sudden bleeding into or around the brain.

Symptoms of a Stroke

The symptoms of a stroke include:

• Sudden numbness or weakness, especially on one side of the body
• Sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding speech
• Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
• Sudden trouble with walking, dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination
• Sudden severe headache with no known cause.

Treatment can be more effective if given quickly. Every minute counts.

There are two forms of stroke: ischemic - blockage of a blood vessel supplying the brain, and hemorrhagic stroke - bleeding into or around the brain.

What is the Prognosis?

Although stroke is a disease of the brain, it can affect the entire body. A common disability that results from stroke is complete paralysis on one side of the body, called hemiplegia. A related disability that is not as debilitating as paralysis is one-sided weakness or hemiparesis. Stroke may cause problems with thinking, awareness, attention, learning, judgment, and memory. Stroke survivors often have problems understanding or forming speech. A stroke can lead to emotional problems.

Stroke patients may have difficulty controlling their emotions or may express inappropriate emotions. Many stroke patients experience depression. Stroke survivors may also have numbness or strange sensations. The pain is often worse in the hands and feet and is made worse by movement and temperature changes, especially cold temperatures.
Recurrent stroke is frequent; about 25 percent of people who recover from their first stroke will have another stroke within 5 years.

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