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National Stroke Awareness Month: Understanding the Facts

For more information about stroke and Carolinas HealthCare System's neurological department, please visit our website.

According to the National Stroke Association, an estimated 795,000 strokes will occur this year. How much do you know about strokes? To minimize the harm and damage from a stroke, it's important to understand the facts. And remember, all strokes require urgent medical attention.

Types of stroke

  • An ischemic (blockage) stroke happens when a clot blocks off blood flow to a part of the brain. Ischemic stroke can also occur when too much plaque (fatty deposits and cholesterol) clogs the brain's blood vessels. About 80 percent of all strokes are ischemic stroke. If the blockage is temporary, it causes a Transient Ischemic Attack, often called a “mini-stroke” or TIA (symptoms may last less than 15 minutes). A TIA can be a warning sign of an impending stroke, and should be checked immediately by a physician.
  • A hemorrhagic (bleeding) stroke happens when a blood vessel breaks in the brain and blood seeps into the surrounding brain tissue. Bleeding strokes are less common, but have a much higher death rate than strokes caused by a blockage.

Symptoms of stroke vary depending on where in the brain the stroke happens and how much of the brain is affected. Each type has common, often controllable, risk factors that can increase your chances of suffering a stroke. There are certain steps you can take to help lower your chance of having a stroke.

Controllable Risk Factors for Stroke

  • High Blood Pressure (Greater than 120/80): High blood pressure is a major cause of both types of stroke. When blood exerts too much pressure on arterial walls over a long period of time, it can cause atherosclerosis, or a hardening of the large arteries. High blood pressure can also lead to a weakening of the brain’s blood vessels, which can increase the chances of hemorrhagic stroke.
  • Smoking: Smoking can lead to an increase in both blood pressure and blood clots, thereby increasing chances of suffering a stroke.
  • Illegal Drug Use: Drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamines raise blood pressure and can narrow the blood vessels of the brain, greatly raising the risk of stroke.
  • Diabetes: Having diabetes increases the likelihood that a person also suffers from atherosclerosis. This means that their arteries are sometimes less able to transport blood efficiently, which increases the risk of a blockage.
  • Weight: Being overweight can cause many problems within the body, including high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, all of which greatly increase chances of stroke. Maintaining a healthy weight through healthy diet and exercise can help reduce your risk of stroke.

Uncontrollable Risk Factors for Stroke

  • Age
  • Race
  • Gender
  • Family history
  • Prior stroke
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