Stroke is a disease that affects the arteries leading to and within the brain. It is the No. 5 cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States.
A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts (or ruptures). When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood (and oxygen) it needs, so it and brain cells die.
Twenty-five percent of the blood pumped from the heart goes to the brain and, if the blood flow to a part of the brain is interrupted for any reason, the affected brain cells are deprived of oxygen and die, resulting in a stroke, the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S. Stroke can lead to loss of speech, physical movement, or eyesight, depending on the area of the brain affected. Of the 500,000 Americans who suffer a stroke every year, nearly two-thirds become handicapped. There are currently over two million people in the U.S. disabled by stroke.
Recovery is also an important issue. Restoring the balance of nitrogen and oxygen in the blood cured divers of the bends (a common issue facing deep sea divers), and physicians suspected that victims of stroke might be helped in a similar manner. In addition to physical therapy getting nutritional support is an important part of recovery.
One of the leading factors for the condition is hypertension. This is particularly important for women. Nearly half of adults with high blood pressure are women. Women also have unique risks for high blood pressure — pregnancy, birth control and menopause — increasing stroke risk. Measuring blood pressure regularly may help lower your risk.
Common warning signs:
- Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body.
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or difficulty understanding speech.
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance, or lack of coordination.
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
Note the time when any symptoms first appear. This information helps health care providers determine the best treatment for each person. Do not drive to the hospital or let someone else drive you. Call an ambulance so that medical personnel can begin life-saving treatment on the way to the emergency room.