What Are the Warning Signs of a Stroke?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that stroke kills about 140,000 Americans each year. Someone in the U.S. has a stroke every 40 seconds, and someone dies from it every four minutes. Although stroke risk increases with age, about one-third of people hospitalized for stroke are under 65 years old.
The CDC estimates that stroke costs the U.S. $34 billion each year in health care services, medicines to treat stroke and missed days of work. Stroke is a leading cause of serious long-term disability.
Yet, despite these dire statistics, the American Stroke Association says that stroke "is preventable, treatable and beatable." The treatment part, however, depends the most on one important factor: speed. The faster you recognize the signs and symptoms of a stroke and begin treatment, the more likely you are to prevent long-term disability and death.
Types of Stroke
First, it's important to understand what a stroke is. The most common type is called ischemic stroke. This is when a blood vessel supplying blood to the brain is obstructed by fatty deposits in the vessel lining, which is known as atherosclerosis. The ASA says about 87% of all strokes are ischemic in nature.
Hemorrhagic strokes, which comprise about 13% of stroke cases, result when a weakened blood vessel ruptures – most often the result of untreated or poorly treated high blood pressure – causing bleeding into the brain. The blood builds up and compresses the surrounding brain tissue, causing tissue damage and cell death.
In each case, the longer the condition lasts, the more damage occurs. Stroke specialists use the phrase "time is brain" – every second the stroke lasts, more brain cells are damaged and die.
Another important type of stroke to know about is called a transient ischemic attack, or TIA. Also called a ministroke, a TIA is a temporary blockage of blood flow to the brain. It doesn't cause permanent damage, may not cause noticeable or long-lasting symptoms and is often ignored. But the ASA warns that TIAs may signal that a full-blown stroke is soon to come, so symptom awareness is critical.