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6 Essential Facts About Stroke

Strokes or brain attacks, are quite common, affecting an estimated 750,000 Americans each year. It’s the fifth leading cause of death and disability in the country, so knowing the causes and treatment could save your life. Here are six important stroke facts to consider.

For more stroke facts, contact your doctor or the UPMC Stroke Institute.

  1. Anyone Can Have a Stroke

Data from the American Stroke Association suggests a sharp rise in stroke-related hospitalizations in people between the ages 15 and 44. In children and teens, strokes are often the result of health issues such as congenital heart defects and sickle cell disease, or blood vessel abnormalities.

While hospitalization rates are declining among older adults, your risk of stroke nearly doubles every 10 years after age 55. Factors such as diet, physical activity, diabetes, high cholesterol, and family history can affect your risk of having a stroke.

  1. There’s More Than One Type

In the simplest terms, a stroke is an interruption of blood flow to the brain that can cause serious damage. Depending on the area of the brain affected, strokes can cause paralysis, vision and speech problems, cognitive difficulties, and personality changes.

The two main types of stroke are ischemic and hemorrhagic. An ischemic stroke occurs when a clot blocks the flow of blood to the brain. In a hemorrhagic stroke, blood leaks into the brain from a ruptured vessel.

  1. Mini Strokes Are Warning Signs

A mini stroke, or transient ischemic attack (TIA), which temporarily blocks blood flow to the brain, is a warning that a serious stroke may occur later. Approximately one-third of stroke patients experienced a TIA before having a full-blown stroke.

While TIAs cause stroke-like symptoms —  including numbness, tingling, or weakness on one side of your body, vision problems, difficulty speaking or understanding others, and headaches — symptoms may last only a short time.

  1. Everyone Is Different

Although stroke symptoms can vary from person to person, the most common warning signs include:

  • Sudden weakness, dizziness, or confusion
  • Sudden severe headache
  • Paralysis or numbness of the face, arm, or leg, usually only on one side of the body
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding speech
  • Difficulty seeing out of one or both eyes
  • Trouble breathing or walking

F.A.S.T. is a simple acronym to help you determine whether you’re witnessing a stroke:

  • Face: One side of the face droops when the person smiles
  • Arms: One arm drifts downward when both arms are raised
  • Speech: Speech is slurred or otherwise peculiar when speaking
  • Time: Call 911 immediately if you notice any of these symptoms

If you suspect someone has suffered a stroke, immediately call 911 or your local ambulance services for emergency medical help so that treatment can begin without delay.

  1. Time Lost Is Brain Lost

When a stroke does occur, fast action is critical to minimize damage to the brain. The window of opportunity for the most successful stroke treatment is just three hours after onset.

One of the best treatments for ischemic strokes is the quick administration of the clot-busting drug called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). While doctors have had success beyond three hours with a special procedure to retrieve the blockage or dissolve it with drugs administered directly into the clot, time is critical. For patients experiencing hemorrhagic strokes caused by bleeding in the brain, fast action is needed to repair the leaking blood vessel.

  1. You Can Prevent a Stroke

According to the National Stroke Association, up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented. Some risk factors are out of your control, but you can reduce your risk with lifestyle changes and medical treatment.

Exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, quitting smoking, and keeping alcohol consumption to a minimum can help reduce your risk of a stroke. Other risk factors you can control include maintaining a healthy weight, keeping your blood pressure within a normal range, and controlling chronic conditions like diabetes.

For more stroke facts, contact your doctor or the UPMC Stroke Institute.