Stroke is a disease that occurs when the brain’s blood supply is interrupted, as the result of factors such as blood clot or a hemorrhage. There are two types of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic. An ischemic stroke occurs when the blockage of a blood vessel stops blood supply to the brain, which prevents the brain from receiving the oxygen and nutrients it needs. A hemorrhagic stroke is caused when bleeding from a ruptured blood vessel in the brain causes pressure buildup, harming or killing brain tissue. Both types of stroke can cause permanent brain damage and require immediate emergency medical care to improve recovery. Learn the risk factors and how to recognize stroke warning signs.
people experience stroke every year
people die from stroke every year
Stroke Risk Factors
Every year in the US, more than 800,000 people experience a new or recurrent stroke and at least 140,000 people die from the disease. This makes stroke the leading cause of permanent disability in adults and also highlights the need for taking preventative measures for those at risk.
Some risk factors of stroke can be treated or controlled with medication or behavioral changes. These include high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, diabetes, carotid or other artery disease, irregular heartbeat, high cholesterol, unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, and obesity.
However, some stroke risk factors cannot be changed. For instance, people who have already had a stroke, transient ischemic attack (TIA), or heart attack are at a higher risk. Stroke risk also increases if another member of the immediate family such as a grandparent, parent, or sibling has had a stroke.
Age, sex, and race can also affect stroke risk. Risk increases with age, approximately doubling for each decade of life after age 55. In terms of gender, stroke typically affects more women than men, with the use of birth control pills and pregnancy potentially increasing women’s risk. Additionally, African Americans and Hispanic Americans are more likely than white Americans to experience a first stroke due to increased risks for high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.
Stroke Signs and Symptoms
Because prompt emergency medical treatment is essential to minimizing stroke damage, it’s important to recognize the warning signs and act immediately for patients to access the treatment they need. A stroke can result in paralysis or weakness, cognitive problems, emotional control problems, and depression, but prompt treatment can improve recovery. Dr. James Grotta explained the importance of seeking help as soon as possible after recognizing stroke signs, and provided the following acronym to help individuals identify signs of stroke in themselves, their loved ones, or anyone close by.
Balance – Sudden dizziness or loss of balance and coordination
Eyes – Difficulty seeing
Face – One side of their face is drooping
Arm – Can’t lift their arm or are experiencing weakness or numbness in the arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
Speech – They have slurred speech or are unable to talk
Time – React right away and call 911
Other symptoms and warning signs of stroke include confusion, dizziness or vertigo, severe headache, or trouble speaking, seeing, or walking.
Stroke can be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms can mimic those of other conditions. However, prompt diagnosis is important as many treatments must be administered within hours of symptom onset to reduce lasting damage. CT scans are often effective in diagnosing hemorrhagic strokes. Current research is being done to identify panels of blood proteins, or biomarkers, that indicate an ischemic stroke, in hopes that a blood test could be used for future diagnosis.
There are three treatment stages for stroke: prevention, therapy during an acute attack and post-stroke rehabilitation.
The best treatment for stroke is prevention, including treating underlying risk factors. Two main ways to prevent stroke are through medication and lifestyle changes like starting a healthier diet and exercise routine. If you’re using a blood pressure or anticoagulant medication, it’s important to take it consistently and not to let your prescriptions lapse.
Therapy during an acute attack involves dissolving the blood clot in the case of an ischemic stroke or controlling the bleeding during a hemorrhagic stroke. Catheter- or IV-based treatments or minimally invasive surgeries may also aid in recovery.
Recovery often depends on how quickly patients are treated and how much brain damage occurred. Post-stroke rehabilitation may include physical therapy, range-of-motion and stretching exercises, therapy to relearn skills like walking and eating, an exercise regimen, and counseling to treat psychological effects. Experts believe early intensive rehabilitation boosts a patient’s chances of restoring function. Through the process of neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to rewire functions from damaged parts of the brain to healthy areas—patients can build new pathways in the brain and improve their recovery.
Orlena was driving with her young daughter in the car when she suffered a stroke because of a rare brain vessel disorder called Moyamoya. After two brain surgeries and six months unable to care for her daughter, Orlena began to reclaim her independence and became a Moyamoya advocate.
At 15 years old, Zoe has been navigating her Tourette syndrome diagnosis for eight years. “I had to figure out at a young age how my emotions affect my tics, from good to awful ways. It has been frustrating to figure out on my own and learn to deal with. This was the first moment in my life where my parents couldn’t fix something for me.”
Sasha was diagnosed with epilepsy after sustaining a soccer-related brain injury in high school. Since then, Sasha has worked to find both a treatment that controlled her seizures and a career that fulfilled her desire to care for others. “Life isn’t meant to be lived taking multiple medications and having seizures you can’t control.”
Before frontotemporal lobe dementia, sometimes called Pick’s disease, Ken Keene Sr. was a respected community member and a handyman who could fix anything. For his oldest son and namesake Ken Keene Jr., there was nothing his father couldn’t do: “To my family, he was just that super dad. Then all of a sudden he’s reaching out for help.”
It started with a twinge. After a simple surgery and some physical therapy, Morgan wasn’t getting better. It took two more surgeries before she was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) type II.
In 2018, Kelly was diagnosed with glioblastoma after an MRI confirmed that a golf-ball-sized tumor above her right ear was affecting the left side of her body. After surgery to remove the tumor, Kelly was able to get through her darkest days with a healthy dose of humor. Now she is an advocate for other patients living with strokes and brain tumors.
When her father was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2005, Nancy quickly shifted into the role of his caregiver. Nancy and her sisters drew from their individual strengths to provide their father with medical assistance and emotional support until his passing in 2012. At that time, he was diagnosed again with Lewy body dementia. “No matter what your financial situation, there’s probably going to be help out there… Just don’t do it alone, because burning yourself out is not going to help anybody.”
Maureen worked as a high school English teacher until she started experiencing a confusing array of symptoms that affected her ability to work, along with her relationships with family and friends. After visiting numerous specialists for years, Maureen received a delayed diagnosis of Lewy body dementia. Now Maureen wants to raise awareness about what life is like with living with this disease. “I felt that I just wanted to offer something to this community that I hadn’t been able to find really.”
For the first 32 years of his life, Joey experienced seizures from epilepsy. For several years, Joey worked hard in his career as a pipe welder and in construction until his seizures started happening more frequently and intensely. Brain surgery became Joey’s only viable option for treatment. Doctors were unsure if Joey would be able to survive after finding more brain damage than expected, but he surprised everyone by thriving during his post-surgery recovery.
At age 40, Ben was perfectly healthy and active until he started noticing the early symptoms of a neurological condition that weakened his physical movements. After a 2-year search for his diagnosis of X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy, he began his journey as an advocate for others living with rare diseases. Last year, Ben joined the board of the American Brain Foundation to further his impact.
In 2002, while her young daughter battled a fatal diagnosis of pons glioma, Michele experienced a life-threatening brain hemorrhage when a brain malformation she likely had since birth ruptured. She experienced drastic changes in the way her brain functioned, especially in regard to memory and spatial awareness. Today, Michele is still learning to adjust. “When someone’s brain is not functioning correctly it impacts everything in their life. It impacts how they think, how they feel about themselves, it’s a very hopeless space to be in as a person.”
Matt is a husband, father, and professional photographer. Over the past 11 years, he has had surgeries and radiation to remove five benign brain tumors. Following the third surgery, he began to experience more struggles in his daily life. “I think the biggest loss is my relationship to my family. They saw me as the dad and strong. Now they can’t count on me as much. It’s important to support people with brain disease ‘cause it can happen to anybody.’”
When she was in her early 30’s, Mary Jo’s relationship with her parents was forever altered by brain disease. Her father suffered a subdural hematoma, was diagnosed with diabetic neuropathy, and experienced a stroke while her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and dementia. “They’re a responsibility that I have to take care of as they have taken care of me.”
Tom suffers from dystonia, a painful neurological movement disorder with no known cure. When he first started experiencing strange pains and cramps in his neck muscles, he saw chiropractors and physical therapists—but when this didn’t help, Tom started down a long and painful road to an eventual diagnosis. Before his diagnosis at 30 years old, Tom was an athlete and an entrepreneur, but as his symptoms worsened, even performing everyday tasks became a challenge. Before long, the pain became debilitating. Over time, Tom learned to accept his new limitations and focus on his physical and mental health.