Risks for stroke
Jeremy Payne, MD, is medical director of the Stroke Center at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix. For more information, talk to your doctor, or call (602) 230-2273 (CARE).
Question: What is a stroke, and how do I know if I am at risk?
Answer: Stroke is a permanent injury to the brain as a result of a lack of blood supply. Strokes are the leading cause of adult disability and fourth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An estimated 780,000 people suffer a stroke each year, and 180,000 of them had a previous stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA)—stroke symptoms that recover quickly without causing permanent damage.
About 85 percent of strokes occur due to sudden blockage of a blood vessel in the brain. Because many strokes are caused by chronic damage of blood vessels, the risk factors that lead to stroke have a lot in common with those that cause heart disease.
The single greatest risk factor for stroke is having had a stroke or TIA. Other risk factors include: high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, high cholesterol, obesity, genetics, race and advancing age. An chronic irregular heartbeat can also lead to stroke.
Symptoms you may experience if you are having a stroke or TIA include: sudden onset of weakness or numbness on one side of the body, difficulty speaking or understanding language, drooping on one side of the face, sudden change or loss of vision, sudden trouble walking and very severe headache without a known cause. These symptoms occur very quickly, and may sometimes only last a few minutes. Even if the symptoms go away, you should be evaluated immediately as a TIA means you are at greater risk for a stroke in the near future. A physician can recommend ways to prevent future strokes.
Preventing strokes comes down to knowing that your risk factors, especially your blood pressure, are under control. It is important to call 911 immediately if you notice any of the symptoms of stroke. Do not wait for them to subside. Your brain depends on it!