A stroke or "brain attack" is the fourth leading cause of death as well as a leading cause of disability in the United States.1 It occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot (ischemic stroke) or bursts (hemorrhagic stroke).When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood – and, therefore, oxygen – it needs, so brain cells die. 

When that happens, abilities such as speech, movement, and memory are lost. How a person is affected and to what degree depends on where the stroke occurs in the brain, and how much the brain is damaged.

For example, someone who has a small stroke may experience only minor problems such as weakness of an arm or leg. People who have larger strokes may be paralyzed on one side or lose their ability to speak. While some people recover completely from strokes, more than two-thirds of survivors will have some type of disability.2

Act F.A.S.T. to prevent disability

To minimize the side effects of stroke, swift diagnosis and treatment is essential. The Stroke Association developed F.A.S.T. to help people remember the warning signs and symptoms of a stroke:

      Face drooping – Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person's smile uneven?
      Arm weakness – Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
      Speech difficulty – Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like "The sky is blue." Is the sentence repeated correctly?
      Time to call 9-1-1 – If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get the person to the hospital immediately. Check the time so you'll know when the first symptoms appeared.

New treatments are available that greatly reduce the damage caused by a stroke, but you need to arrive at the hospital within 60 minutes after symptoms start to have the best chance to prevent disability. Knowing stroke symptoms, calling 911 immediately, and getting to a hospital as fast as possible are critical.

Who’s at risk?

Each of us has controllable and uncontrollable risk factors for stroke. Knowing and managing your individual risk factors can significantly reduce your chance of suffering a stroke.

Controllable risk factors. Some health conditions can be controlled with medicine as well as exercise, diet, and other lifestyle changes.

  • High blood pressure
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Circulation problems
  • Tobacco use and smoking
  • Alcohol use
  • Physical inactivity
  • Obesity

Uncontrollable risk factors. There are some risk factors beyond your control. For example, women and African Americans have a higher risk of stroke.

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Family history
  • Previous stroke

Elder home care services can help people who’ve had strokes recover at home. Home health aides can assist with personal care and housekeeping tasks, enabling those with the after-effects of a stroke to live life the fullest in the comfort, safety, and dignity of home. The amount of assistance from home health aides you may need will depend on the severity of your deficits and the amount of help you currently receive from family caregivers.

Fast facts about strokes

According to the National Stroke Association :

  • Stroke is the number four cause of death, killing more than 137,000 Americans a year.
  • About 795,000 Americans each year suffer a new or recurrent stroke. That means, on average, a stroke occurs every 40 seconds.
  • About 40 percent of stroke deaths occur in males; 60 percent in females.
  • African Americans have almost twice the risk of first-ever stroke compared with Caucasians.
  • There are an estimated 7,000,000 stroke survivors in the US over age 20.

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1 http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/stroke/stroke_needtoknow.htm  
2 http://www.strokeassociation.org/STROKEORG/AboutStroke/About-Stroke_UCM_308529_SubHomePage.jsp