What is a stroke, what are the warning signs, and how can I reduce my risk?
Peder Anderson, MD answered:
Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and is the most common cause of adult disability. A stroke occurs when either a blood clot blocks an artery in the brain, or an artery in the brain breaks. This interrupts blood flow to a particular area of the brain causing brain cells to die. Abilities controlled by that area of the brain—such as movement, memory, and speech—can be lost. Sometimes this loss is permanent, while in some cases, some or all of the deficit may be recovered.
Stroke symptoms can include sudden numbness or weakness of the face, an arm or a leg—usually occurring on just one side of the body. A person having a stroke may have a sudden, severe headache, seem confused, have trouble speaking or seeing clearly, or have difficulty with balance. Any of these symptoms should warrant urgent medical evaluation, since earlier treatment for a stroke often results in a better prognosis.
Some risk factors for stroke are not changeable, such as age and family history. Other risk factors can be changed. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and cigarette smoking all significantly increase the risk of having a stroke. Physical inactivity and being overweight not only increase the chances of having high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, but also they increase the risk of having a stroke in and of themselves. The best strategy to decrease your chances of having a stroke is to stay active, maintain a healthy weight, avoid smoking, and see your doctor annually.