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Stroke Basics

- Summary
- About stroke
- Types and differences
- Risk factors and causes
- Signs and symptoms
- Diagnosis of stroke
- Treatment options
- After a stroke
- Prevention methods
- Ongoing research
- Questions for your doctor

Reviewed By:
Kerry Prewitt, M.D., FACC


Also known as a cerebrovascular accident (CVA), a stroke is a life-threatening event in which part of the brain is deprived of adequate oxygen. Strokes are extremely dangerous, accounting for more than 160,000 deaths each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States, behind heart disease and cancer. It is also a leading cause of adult disability and institutionalization.

Stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is restricted (e.g., by a blood clot), causing damage.There are two kinds of strokes. An ischemic stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted, usually by a blood clot. The second kind of stroke is a hemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when there is bleeding in or around the brain. Some people may also experience a “mini-stroke” (also called a transient ischemic attack), where symptoms last for a short period of time. All strokes are considered medical emergencies.

Symptoms of a stroke may include numbness or weakness, confusion, dizziness, trouble speaking or understanding others and paralysis. After a stroke begins, it is imperative that people seek treatment as soon as possible to re-establish the flow of oxygen-rich blood to brain cells before permanent tissue damage or death occurs. Imaging tests may also be performed to confirm that a stroke has occurred, identify any potential causes and determine the extent of brain damage (if any).

People who survive a stroke should begin stroke rehabilitation as soon as possible to regain as many lost functions (e.g., lack of coordination, muscle strength) as possible.

There are several risk factors associated with strokes. They include age, high blood pressure, heart disease, smoking and obesity. In general, prevention methods for stroke are aimed at eliminating or treating the risk factors. This can usually be accomplished by making certain lifestyle changes, such as eating a heart-healthy diet and taking medications. A physician might also recommend surgery for some patients.

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Review Date: 02-01-2007

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