Skip directly to search Skip directly to A to Z list Skip directly to navigation Skip directly to page options Skip directly to site content


What’s the Problem?

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is blocked or when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures causing brain tissue to die. Symptoms often start as a sudden feeling of numbness or weakness on one side of the body. Stroke is the 5th leading cause of death in the U.S. and a major cause of severe disability. Approximately 800,000 people in the U.S. have a stroke each year. On average, one person dies every 4 minutes from stroke in the U.S. A stroke is a medical emergency—it is important to know the signs and symptoms and call 9-1-1 right away if you or someone you are with has symptoms of a stroke.

Who’s at Risk?

Anyone can have a stroke at any age, but there are certain risk factors that can increase the chances of having a stroke. Some risk factors cannot be controlled, such as age or family history. Age is the most important non-modifiable risk factor, while high blood pressure is the most important modifiable risk factor. In fact, the risk of having a stroke doubles every ten years after age 55. Other health conditions such as smoking, high cholesterol, heart disease, and diabetes are associated with a higher risk for stroke. Managing these medical conditions can help lower the risk of having a stroke. Some behavioral factors that can be controlled include an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, obesity, drinking too much alcohol, and smoking.

Can Strokes be Prevented?

  • Making healthy lifestyle choices can help prevent stroke. Leading a healthy lifestyle through a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, engaging in physical activity on most days, limiting alcohol use, and not smoking can help prevent stroke.
  • Managing health conditions that are related to stroke, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease can reduce the chance of having a stroke.
  • Fast response and treatment can reduce the brain damage caused by a stroke.
  • Calling an ambulance (dial 9-1-1) is critical because emergency medical teams can take you to a hospital that can treat stroke patients, and in some cases, they can begin life-saving treatment on the way to the emergency room. Some treatments for stroke work only if given within the first 3 hours after symptoms appear.

Signs and symptoms to recognize include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body.
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or difficulty understanding speech.
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
  • Sudden severe headache for no known reason.

Strokes occur suddenly and should be treated as medical emergencies.  If you think you or someone else may be having a stroke, act F.A.S.T.:

F—Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

   A—Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

   S—Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is the speech slurred or strange?

   T—Time: If you see any of these signs, call 9-1-1 right away.

The Bottom Line

  • Stroke is the 5th leading cause of death in the U.S.
  • Anyone can have a stroke and the risk increases with age.
  • High blood pressure is a major risk factor for stroke.
  • Some risk factors cannot be controlled, such as age and family history or genetic factors for health conditions that can lead to a stroke.
  • Risk factors that are linked to behavioral and lifestyle choices can be controlled.
  • A stroke is a medical emergency. It is important to know the signs and symptoms and act F.A.S.T. if you think you or someone you know may be having a stroke.
  • Call 9-1-1 right away if symptoms start.

Case Example

Prince Quire, a 39-year old African American male was headed to work on what he thought was a typical day. He worked in the evenings and his normal routine was to exercise before going to work. This day was no exception. After doing cardio, he went to play basketball and all of a sudden, he felt dizzy. He grabbed the wall to try to gain balance. His friends asked him to lift his left hand and he couldn’t. His friends thought he was having a stroke and immediately called 9-1-1. When the emergency response team arrived, they recognized the signs of a stroke and recommended that he be airlifted to a local hospital. Once arriving at the hospital, doctors provided immediate life-saving treatment and he had an excellent recovery.

  • Page last reviewed: September 15, 2017
  • Page last updated: September 15, 2017
  • Content source: