Did you know that more than 795,000 people have a stroke every year, and someone has a stroke every 40 seconds?1 Strokes occur when a blood clot blocks blood flow to the brain, causing damaged or dead brain tissue. They can lead to aphasia, a disorder in which someone loses the ability to speak, read or write.
“Every minute after a stroke is 2 million neurons lost permanently…It is very important to call 911, and get help as quickly as possible.” Dr. Jason Mackey, stroke neurologist at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis.
To mark National Stroke Awareness Month in May, learn more about strokes, what causes them and what to do about them. If you know the signs of a stroke in your friend or loved one, you’ll be ready to get them help as soon as possible.
What Is a Stroke?
There are four main types of strokes:
Ischemic: The most common type, in which an artery to the brain is blocked
Hemorrhagic: A blood vessel breaks and bleeds into the brain
Transient ischemic attack: The blood flow to the brain is temporarily blocked, usually for five minutes or less (also called a TIA or mini stroke)
Cryptogenic stroke: Cause unknown
“While more common in older individuals, individuals can stroke at all ages, so all need to know the symptoms and ways to prevent.” Daniel T. Lackland, DrPH, professor of epidemiology and neurology at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, S.C.
Treatment varies based on the type of stroke, but includes drugs to break up the clots in the blood vessels, minimally invasive surgery like endovascular procedures to repair a damaged blood vessel, or more intensive surgery to remove a blood clot or treat an aneurysm. After a stroke, a rehabilitation program can help reteach any lost movements or skills.
National Stroke Awareness Month is designed to help people learn more about this serious medical issue, which is one of the primary causes of long-term disability.2
The earlier someone suffering a stroke gets help, the better their chance of survival. Patients who got emergency treatment within three hours of their initial stroke symptoms experienced less disability three months after their stroke than patients who didn’t get immediate care. There are five key signs of stroke, but in a survey, only 38% of respondents recognized all five of these signs and knew to call 911.3
What You Need to Know
Getting someone help quickly improves their chances of surviving a stroke.
There are four main types of strokes.
Ischemic strokes, in which a blood vessel to the brain is blocked, are the most common.
Who Suffers From Strokes?
Race, location and gender help determine who’s most likely to have a stroke. For instance, in Alabama, Blacks suffer the most strokes, with 126 people suffering strokes per 100,000 population, according to CDC data from 2016 to 2018. This number drops to 92.9 for whites and 32.5 for Hispanics. However, in Hawaii, Hispanics suffer the most strokes, with 107.2 per 100,000 population. The number decreases to 62.3 for whites.
Women are slightly more likely to have a stroke than men, according to the data. For example, in Arizona, women suffered 59.2 strokes per 100,000 population, while men suffered 58.2 strokes. Likewise, in Iowa, 63.1 women suffered strokes per 100,000, while 62.5 men suffered strokes.
What Are Signs and Symptoms of a Stroke?
Recognizing when someone is having a stroke can be the key to getting emergency care as quickly as possible. Act “F.A.S.T.” by using these steps:
Face: Ask the person to smile, and see if their face droops to one side.
Arms: Have the person lift their arms, and see if one arm droops down.
Speech: Have the person repeat a simple phrase, and see if their speech is slurred.
Time: If you see any signs of drooping or slurring, call 911 immediately.4
Both men and women suffer similar symptoms during stroke. These include:
- Sudden numbness or weakness in the arm, leg or face, particularly on one side of the body
- Trouble speaking, slurred speech or sudden confusion
- Sudden trouble with vision in one or both eyes
- Sudden loss of balance, dizziness, lack of coordination or trouble walking
- Sudden unexplained, severe headache5
Although anyone can suffer a stroke, family history and certain medical conditions may increase the risk. These conditions include:
- Experiencing a TIA or previous stroke
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Sickle cell disease6
Lifestyle choices also can increase the risk of stroke. These include:
- A diet high in fats, cholesterol and salt
- Lack of exercise
- Tobacco or excessive alcohol use7
What Do the Experts Say?
For the best results, it’s important to get treatment right away. “Every minute after a stroke is 2 million neurons lost permanently,” says Dr. Jason Mackey, stroke neurologist at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis. “It is very important to call 911, and get help as quickly as possible if there is concern for stroke. Oftentimes, many people wait to get help or drive themselves or loved ones to an emergency department or doctor, and we lose valuable time.”
Certain treatments can bring good results if they’re used quickly. “A clot-busting drug called tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA, is very effective for ischemic strokes, but must be administered within three to four and a half hours of the onset of the stroke,” says Daniel T. Lackland, DrPH, professor of epidemiology and neurology at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, S.C.
Lackland says it’s a myth that strokes only happen to the elderly. “While more common in older individuals, individuals can stroke at all ages, so all need to know the symptoms and ways to prevent,” he says. He says it’s also a myth that strokes randomly occur and can’t be prevented. “Prevention is key and can be achieved with the risk factors we know: controlling high blood pressure, controlling high cholesterol, controlling diabetes, not smoking and a healthy lifestyle,” he says.
Mackey says the most important risk factor for stroke is high blood pressure. “Checking blood pressure often can help prevent a stroke,” he says. “Therefore, it is important older adults regularly check blood pressure even if they’ve never had a stroke to take the necessary precautions to reduce their risk of having high blood pressure or stroke.”
For those who have suffered a stroke, it’s important to note their risk for another stroke is increased. “A person who had a stroke is at greater risk of having more strokes, so you should be very aware of the extra risks and take all precautions to prevent another stroke,” Lackland says. “These actions include taking all medicine as prescribed and adapting a healthy lifestyle and diet.”
What Can You Do?
There are multiple organizations offering information about strokes and support for people who have survived a stroke.
Where to Donate:
- American Stroke Association: This division of the American Heart Association seeks to educate people about stroke prevention and treatment.
- Stroke Awareness Foundation: This California-based foundation promotes stroke awareness and helps improve outcomes for stroke victims.
- American Stroke Foundation: This organization provides tools and resources to stroke survivors, their families and their caregivers.
Check out these resources for more information:
- When It Comes to Stroke It’s Okay to Over-React (pamphlet)
- Stroke Patient Education Handouts
- Understanding Stroke Brochure: Are You at Risk?
- Recovering from a Stroke
For Stroke Awareness Month, take some time to learn the signs and symptoms of stroke so that you can help someone in need. Help spread the word around, either on your own or by helping stroke organizations. The more people know about stroke, the more they can help stop stroke deaths and help people to recover more fully.