• What Causes a Stroke?

    “Time Is Brain.” Doctors use this phrase to stress how important it is to act quickly if you or someone you are with shows the signs of stroke. The American Stroke Association suggests remembering “FAST” – a simple word to help remember stroke symptoms and what do to if you spot them: Face drooping, Arm weakness and Speech difficulty mean it’s Time to call 9-1-1 for an ambulance FAST!

    A stroke is caused when normal blood flow is cut off to the brain, or to any part of the brain. Brain cells cannot survive for long once blood flow is cut off. Within a short time, permanent damage can occur, resulting in disability or even death. The sooner the symptoms of a stroke are recognized and treated, the better the chances are for recovery.

    While all strokes are caused by disruption of blood flow to the brain, there are different classifications of strokes, depending upon the reason for the blood stoppage.

    • An ischemic stroke occurs when a blood vessel to the brain is blocked, preventing blood flow. The blockage may be caused by fatty material in an artery that works its way loose and travels to the arteries that supply blood to the brain. Or it can result from blood clots that form in the heart’s left atrial appendage (LAA). When the heart is not beating properly because of atrial fibrillation, blood may be allowed to accumulate in the LAA, where it may form blood clots that eventually may be pumped out of the heart and into the arteries of the brain. Once there, they can prevent the blood from flowing to the brain tissue and cause a stroke. You can learn more about atrial fibrillation and the LAA here.
    • Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts and bleeds. This can occur as the result of high blood pressure or as a side effect of blood-thinning medications, known as anticoagulants.
    • A transient ischemic attack (TIA), often called a "mini-stroke," is the result of a temporary blockage. Unlike an ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke, which can cause permanent damage, TIA symptoms are temporary. According to the National Institutes of Health, about one-third of all people who have a TIA will go on to have a more severe stroke later.

    What Makes a Stroke More Likely to Occur? 

    A number of factors increase the likelihood of stroke; however, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke estimates that 8 out of 10 strokes can be prevented. Certain risk factors, such as high blood pressuresmoking and excessive alcohol, increase the risk of stroke. Other risk factors include being overweight or obese or having high cholesterol, atrial fibrillation, diabetes, coronary artery disease, a sedentary lifestyle, and blood disorders, such as sickle cell disease or severe anemia. At the same time, however, there are risk factors that are out of a patient’s control, such as age, family history and race. Managing risk factors is one of the best strategies for preventing stroke. We all should work with our healthcare teams to assess our risk factors – both those we can and cannot control – and take steps to live the healthiest lifestyle possible.

    Act F.A.S.T - Know the Symptoms of a Stroke and What to Do  

    Taking steps to manage risk factors and prevent a stroke is a good strategy for overall good health. Still, everyone should know the symptoms of a stroke and when to seek medical help – either for yourself or if someone you are with shows the signs of stroke. During a stroke, seconds count! The faster the patient is treated, the greater the chance that the stroke can be stopped, possibly saving the patient’s life and preventing damage to the brain tissue that can result in disability.

    To help us identify the signs of a stroke and know when to seek prompt medical attention, the American Stroke Association developed FAST, an easy-to-remember guide for spotting a stroke.

    F - Face drooping. Is one side of the person’s face drooping or numb? When he or she smiles, is the smile uneven?

    A - Arm weakness. Is the person experiencing weakness or numbness in one arm? Have the person raise both arms. Does one of the arms drift downward?

    S - Speech difficulty. Is the person’s speech suddenly slurred or hard to understand? Is he or she unable to speak? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Can he or she repeat it back?

    T - Time to call 9-1-1. If any of these symptoms are present, dial 9-1-1 immediately. Check the time so you can report when the symptoms began.

    Learn More  

    To learn more about stroke, including health problems and lifestyle factors that can contribute to risk, and how doctors diagnose and treat strokes as quickly as possible to save brain tissue, visit the SecondsCount Stroke Center.