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What is a stroke?

A stroke , or “brain attack,” occurs when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel or artery in the brain (ischemic stroke), or when a blood vessel in the brain breaks or ruptures (hemorrhagic stroke).  When a stroke occurs, brain cells die in the immediate area.  These cells usually die within minutes to a few hours after the stroke starts. You can view illustrations of these conditions or find definitions for these and other related terms in the Glossary.

Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), or mini-strokes, occur when a blood clot occurs somewhere in the body and travels to the brain. Symtoms of a TIA  are similar to that of other types of stroke but may also include sudden nausea, fever and vomiting; or fainting, confusion, convulsions or coma. Unlike a major stroke, these symptoms usually last about an hour--although they can last up to 24 hours. About one-third of people with a history of TIAs will suffer a major stroke.

The words stroke, brain attack, and cerebrovascular disease are used interchangeably throughout literature.  They refer to abnormalities of the brain resulting from diseases of its blood vessels.   Stroke is the most commonly diagnosed, but not the only, form of cerebrovascular disease.  The term cardiovascular disease is frequently used to encompass heart disease, stroke, heart failure-disorders of the circulatory system.

Signs & Symptoms

If you see or experience signs of a heart attack or stroke, dial 911 immediately.

The warning signs of stroke include:

Sudden numbness or weakness of 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

Other, less common stroke symptoms include sudden nausea, fever and vomiting; brief loss or decreased consciousness (fainting, confusion, convulsions or coma).

Risk Factors

The good news is that many strokes are preventable by reducing your risk. You cannot impact such risk factors as age, race, gender or family history, but you can impact:

* Tobacco use

* Physical inactivity

* Poor nutrition

* Stress

 For more information on risk factors and how to control your risk, visit the American Stroke Association or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For a personal risk assessment, visit the Power to End Stroke.