Office of Women's Health

Facts About Stroke

Every 45 seconds, someone in America has a stroke. Every 3.1 minutes, someone dies of one. Stroke killed nearly 6,900 people in Illinois in 2003 and is the third leading cause of death, ranking behind diseases of the heart and all forms of cancer. Stroke is a leading cause of serious, long-term disability in Illinois and the United States.

What is a stroke?

Stroke is a type of cardiovascular disease. It affects the arteries leading to and within the brain. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts. When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood (and oxygen) it needs, so it starts to die.

When part of the brain dies from lack of blood flow, the part of the body it controls is affected. Strokes can cause paralysis, affect language and vision, and cause other problems. Treatments are available to minimize the potentially devastating effects of stroke, but to receive them, one must recognize the warning signs and act quickly.

What are the warning signs of a stroke?

If you observe one or more of these signs of a stroke or “brain attack,” do not wait. Call 911 right away! Warning signs may last a few moments and then disappear, but they signal a serious condition that will not go away without medical help. Signs include:

  • sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body

  • sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding

  • sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

  • sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination

  • sudden, severe headache with no known cause

What causes a stroke?

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel bringing oxygen and nutrients to the brain bursts or is clogged by a blood clot or some other particle. Because of this rupture or blockage, part of the brain doesn't get the blood flow it needs. Deprived of oxygen, nerve cells in the affected area of the brain can't function and die within minutes.

When nerve cells can't function, the part of the body controlled by these cells can't function either. The devastating effects of stroke are often permanent because dead brain cells aren’t replaced.

As the brain controls everything we say, do and think, a stroke can have a wide variety of effects. A stroke can affect personality, emotions, behavior, and the ability to move and coordinate movement; it can affect feeling, touch, temperature, pain and movement; and it can affect the ability to see and interpret what you see, to think and to remember, understand, plan, reason or problem solve.

What are the effects of a stroke?

The brain is an extremely complex organ that controls various body functions. If a stroke occurs and blood flow can’t reach the region that controls a particular body function, that part of the body won’t work as it should. If the stroke occurs toward the back of the brain, for instance, it’s likely that some disability involving vision will result. The effects of a stroke depend primarily on the location of the obstruction and the extent of brain tissue affected.

What are the risk factors of stroke?

The American Stroke Association has identified several factors that increase the risk of stroke. The more risk factors a person has, the greater the chance that he or she will have a stroke. Some of these you cannot control, such as increasing age, family health history, race, gender and prior stroke. But you can change or treat other risk factors to lower your risk. Factors resulting from lifestyle or environment can be modified with a health care provider’s help. Some of these include: poor diet, physical inactivity, high blood pressure, current smoking, diabetes mellitus, carotid artery disease, heart disease, transient ischemic attacks (mini strokes) and high red blood cell count.

What is the treatment for stroke?

A stroke can happen to anyone at any moment. In fact about 600,000 people have strokes every year. For many years, there was no hope for those suffering a stroke. However, recent breakthroughs have led to new treatments. For the treatments to work, the person must get to a hospital immediately.

More information about strokes can be obtained by contacting:

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion