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May Is National Stroke Awareness Month

A 2005 CDC survey found that only 38% of people correctly identified all five symptoms of stroke and knew to call 9-1-1 if they thought that someone was having a stroke.

Photo: Cell phone with 911 on screenWhy should you know the signs of stroke? Because patients who arrive at the emergency room within 3 hours of showing their first symptoms tend to be healthier 3 months after a stroke than those whose care was delayed.

What Is Stroke?

Stroke is a leading cause of death in the United States, killing nearly 130,000 Americans each year—that's 1 of every 19 deaths. On average, 1 American dies from stroke every 4 minutes.

There are two types of stroke. Either type of stroke can cause brain cells to die quickly.

  1. An ischemic stroke occurs when a clot blocks the blood supply to the brain. Ischemic strokes are the most common type of stroke. A "mini-stroke," or transient ischemic attack (TIA), occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted only briefly.
  2. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts.

If you or someone you know shows any symptoms of a stroke, get to a hospital quickly to begin treatment. Medical personnel will try to stop an ischemic stroke while it is happening by quickly dissolving the blood clot or by stopping the bleeding. For hemorrhagic stroke, immediate surgery may be needed to prevent re-bleeding or other complications, which can lead to serious disability or death in 40% to 60% of cases.

What Is My Risk for Stroke?

Symptoms of Stroke—and What to Do

The five most common signs and symptoms of stroke are:

  1. Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg.
  2. Sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding others.
  3. Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  4. Sudden dizziness, trouble walking, or loss of balance or coordination.
  5. Sudden severe headache with no known cause.

Although stroke risk increases with age, strokes can—and do—occur at any age. In 2009, one-third of people hospitalized for stroke were younger than age 65. Stroke has a serious effect on the person who suffers one, the person's family, and society.

Some of the factors that can increase your risk for stroke are beyond your control. These include your age, sex, and race/ethnicity. There are some risk factors you can control, however. Having high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes can increase your risk for stroke. Smoking and not exercising enough also are risk factors for stroke.

You can greatly reduce your risk for stroke by leading a healthy lifestyle and working with your doctor to treat and control your medical conditions.

Tips for Preventing Stroke

A Stroke Can Happen to Anyone

  • Every year, more than 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke.
  • About 4 million Americans who have survived a stroke are living with disabilities, and 15% to 30% are permanently disabled.
  • For stroke survivors, recovery can take months or years. Many people who have had a stroke never fully recover.
  • Stroke costs the United States an estimated $38.6 billion each year. This total includes the cost of health care services, medications, and missed days of work.
  • Stroke is a leading cause of serious long-term disability.

Eat a healthy diet. Be sure to include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Eating foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in fiber can help prevent high blood cholesterol. Limiting sodium in your diet also can lower your blood pressure. For more information, visit CDC's Salt Web site.

Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese can increase your risk for stroke. To determine whether your weight is in a healthy range, doctors often calculate a number called the body mass index (BMI). If you know your weight and height, you can calculate your BMI at CDC's Assessing Your Weight Web site.

Be physically active. Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower cholesterol and blood pressure. The Surgeon General recommends that adults engage in moderate intensity exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. Visit CDC's Physical Activity Web site for more information on being active.

Don't smoke. Cigarette smoking greatly increases your risk for stroke. If you don't smoke, don't start. If you do smoke, quitting will lower your risk of having a stroke. Your doctor can suggest ways to help you quit. CDC's Office on Smoking and Health Web site has information on quitting smoking.

Limit alcohol use. Avoid drinking too much alcohol, which causes high blood pressure. For women, that means no more than one drink per day; for men, no more than two drinks per day. For more information, visit CDC's Alcohol and Public Health Web site.

Some medical conditions can put you at a higher risk for stroke. Preventing or treating these medical conditions can help lower your risk.

  • Photo: Three women smilingHave your cholesterol checked. Your health care provider should test your cholesterol levels at least once every 5 years. Talk with your doctor about this simple blood test.
  • Monitor and control your blood pressure. High blood pressure often has no symptoms, so be sure to have it checked on a regular basis.
  • Manage your diabetes. If you have diabetes, closely monitor your blood sugar levels. Talk with your health care team about treatment options.
  • Take your medicine. If you're taking medication to treat high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes, follow your health care provider's instructions carefully. Always ask questions if you don't understand something.

Talk with your health care team. You and your doctor, nurse, pharmacist, or other health care professional can work together to prevent or treat the medical conditions that lead to heart disease and stroke. Discuss your treatment plan regularly and bring a list of questions to your appointments.

Stroke: A Public Health Priority

Stroke is a major public health priority in the United States. In 2011, the federal government and private organizations launched Million Hearts®, a national initiative to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. Along with resources for consumers and health care professionals, the initiative produced a series of videos with heart attack and stroke survivors. In one of those videos, José shares his story of the long road to recovery after a stroke. In another, Dr. Amie Hsia discusses knowing your risk factors for stroke.

Another national initiative, Healthy People 2020, has set goals regarding stroke prevention and treatment for the nation, including an objective to increase the number of adults who are aware of the early warning signs of a stroke and the importance of accessing rapid emergency care by calling 9-1-1.

If you have risk factors for stroke, there are steps you can take to lower your risk. Be aware, and take that first step today.

More Information



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  • Page last reviewed: May 20, 2013
  • Page last updated: May 20, 2013 The U.S. Government's Official Web PortalDepartment of Health and Human Services
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