• By Laurel Kelly

Consumer Health: Stroke awareness

May 12, 2021
medical illustration of stroke types

May is National Stroke Awareness Month, which makes this a good time to learn more about stroke.

Stroke is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. and a major cause of serious disability for adults. More than 795,000 people in the U.S. have a stroke each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stroke risk increases with age, especially after 55, but strokes can occur at any age.

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of your brain is interrupted or reduced, preventing brain tissue from getting oxygen and nutrients. Brain cells begin to die in minutes. A stroke is a medical emergency, and prompt treatment is crucial. Early action can reduce brain damage and other complications.

The two main causes of stroke are a blocked artery, which causes an ischemic stroke, or a leaking or burst blood vessel, which causes a hemorrhagic stroke. Some people may have only a temporary disruption of blood flow to the brain, known as a transient ischemic attack, that doesn't cause lasting symptoms.

Signs and symptoms of stroke include:

  • Trouble speaking and understanding what others are saying
    You may be confused, slur your words or have difficulty understanding speech.
  • Paralysis or numbness of the face, arm or leg
    You may develop sudden numbness, weakness or paralysis in your face, arm or leg. This often affects just one side of your body. Try to raise your arms over your head at the same time. If one arm begins to fall, you may be having a stroke. Also, one side of your mouth may droop when you try to smile.
  • Problems seeing in one or both eyes
    You may suddenly have blurred or blackened vision in one or both eyes, or you may see double.
  • Headache
    A sudden, severe headache, which may be accompanied by vomiting, dizziness or altered consciousness, may indicate that you're having a stroke.
  • Trouble walking
    You may stumble or lose your balance. You also may have sudden dizziness or loss of coordination.

It's important to recognize the warning signs of stroke because prompt treatment is crucial to minimize brain damage and potential complications. To recognize the signs of stroke, remember the acronym FAST:

  • Face
    Does the face droop on one side when the person tries to smile?
  • Arms
    Is one arm lower when the person tries to raise both arms?
  • Speech
    Can the person repeat a simple sentence? Is speech slurred or hard to understand?
  • Time
    During a stroke every minute counts. If you observe any of these signs, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.

Emergency treatment for stroke depends on the type of stroke you're having. To treat an ischemic stroke, health care providers must quickly restore blood flow to your brain. Treatment of hemorrhagic stroke focuses on controlling the bleeding and reducing pressure in your brain caused by the excess fluid.

Most stroke survivors go to a rehabilitation program, and some rehabilitation may begin before you leave the hospital. After discharge, you might continue your program in a rehabilitation unit of the same hospital, at another rehabilitation unit or skilled nursing facility, as an outpatient, or at home.