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Stroke Warning Signs

Strokes can come on suddenly. The faster you seek help, the more brain cells you can save. Unfortunately, the damage to the brain caused by strokes can be permanent. That is why a fast reaction may help you or a stroke victim get the right treatment and have a better recovery and prognosis.

If you notice any of the following symptoms, call 911 or seek emergency medical attention immediately:

  • Sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body

  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding

  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination

  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States. It is also a major cause of long-term disability. A critical element of a stroke is that impacts the brain, and as the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association note: "Time lost is brain lost." In other words, brain cells that die cannot be replaced.

What is a stroke?

A stroke is caused when an artery that delivers blood and oxygen to the brain becomes blocked or ruptures. Brain cells deprived of oxygen die within minutes. As a result, the effects of a stroke -- neurological impairment -- may be permanent, since the brain cells cannot be replaced.

A stroke that is caused by a clot that obstructs blood and oxygen flow is called an ischemic stroke. This is the most common type of stroke, occurring in 87 percent of cases. The remaining 13 percent are known as hemorrhagic strokes, which are caused by a blood vessel breaking and bleeding into the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes are caused by two types of defective blood vessels: aneurysms and arteriovenous malformations. Aneurysms are vessels that have weakened and ballooned outward; arteriovenous malformations are a collection of abnormal blood vessels that are prone to breaking.

What is a TIA?

A TIA is a transient ischemic attack, and is also known as a "mini-stroke." It occurs if a blood clot temporarily blocks blood vessels to the brain. Because TIAs precede about 15 percent of all strokes, they should never be ignored. Clot dissolving treatments are available to reduce damage from a TIA, but are effective only if received within three hours of the stroke.

Can I lower my risk of stroke?

Research indicates that living a healthy lifestyle lowers the risk of having a stroke. This includes:

  • Controlling high blood pressure
  • Not smoking
  • Eating a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet
  • Staying physically active
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight
  • Managing diabetes
  • Moderate intake or abstinence from alcohol

To learn more about strokes:

Stroke infographic from American Stroke Association