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What Is Stroke?

Types of Stroke

In 2016, stroke was the 4th leading cause of death in Ohio.  Stroke can happen at any age but happens more often in older adults than in younger adults or children. The average age of stroke is decreasing.  Pediatric strokes are rare, but their incidence is increasing as the general population’s risk factors for stroke continue to increase.

Stroke happens when the blood flow to an area of the brain is interrupted by a blood clot or bleeding from a  broken blood vessel.  If blood flow to an area of the brain stops for more than a few seconds, brain cells die because they cannot get the oxygen and nutrients they need to stay alive.  Brain cells can also be damaged from the blood from a broken vessel. 

Stroke affects the body by killing brain cells that control certain body functions.  When brain cells die, the parts of the body controlled by that area of the brain are also affected.  This is how stroke can cause problems with speaking, seeing, walking, balance, thinking, memory or other problems.  There are three types of stroke that can affect the brain and body.

Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) or “mini stroke”

Occurs when blood flow through an artery in the brain is blocked or reduced for a brief time. TIAs are smaller, temporary blockages in the brain that can produce milder forms of stroke-like symptoms but may not leave lasting damage.  This type of stroke can be a warning sign and may occur before a more devastating stroke.

Ischemic Stroke

Occurs when a blood vessel in the brain is blocked by a blood clot.  This blockage causes the death of brain tissue in the affected area. Ischemic strokes account for 80 percent of all strokes.

Hemorrhagic Stroke

Occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts or leaks.  Blood spills into or around the brain and creates swelling and pressure, damaging cells and tissue in the brain.

Stroke Risk

Anyone can have a stroke no matter their age, race or gender. However, the chances of having a stroke increase if a person has certain risk factors that can cause a stroke. The good news is that up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented.  The best way to protect yourself from stroke is to understand the risks and how to manage them.

Highest Stroke Risks

Previous Stroke, Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) or Heart Attack

A prior stroke, TIA or heart attack can raise a person’s stroke risk.  A person who has had a prior stroke has a much higher risk of having another stroke than a person who has never had one.  TIAs are also strong predictors of stroke.  A person who's had one or more TIAs is almost 10 times more likely to have a stroke than someone of the same age and sex who hasn't.  Heart attack survivors not only face a higher risk of a second heart attack, they're also more likely to have a stroke. 

Uncontrolled High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

High blood pressure is when blood pressure, the force of blood pushing against the walls of blood vessels, is consistently too high.  This can weaken blood vessels and damage major organs, such as the brain.  Left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to stroke.  High blood pressure is the most important risk factor for stroke.

High Blood Cholesterol

As blood cholesterol rises, the risk of stroke increases in two ways.  First too much cholesterol in the blood can cause fatty deposits to build up in the arteries and restrict the flow of blood.  It also increases the chance of a blood clot developing in those arteries.  High cholesterol may also raise your risk for stroke by increasing your risk for heart disease, another stroke risk factor. 

Other Stroke Risk Factors

African Americans are twice as likely to die from stroke as Caucasians.  The rate of first strokes in African Americans is almost double that of Caucasians, and strokes tend to occur earlier in life for African Americans than Caucasians.

The chance of having a stroke more than doubles every 10 years after age 55.

Hormonal changes with pregnancy, giving birth and menopause are also linked to an increased risk of stroke for women.

Family History
Stroke risks are higher in people who have a family or personal history of stroke.

Other Conditions like Heart Disease and Diabetes
Diabetes quadruples stroke risk. While diabetes is treatable, the presence of the disease still increases your risk of stroke.

Common heart disorders such as coronary artery disease, valve defects, irregular heart beat (atrial fibrillation), and enlargement of one of the heart's chambers can result in blood clots that may break loose and block vessels in or leading to the brain. 

People who have excess body fat are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke even if they have no other risk factors.  Excess weight makes the heart work harder. It raises blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.  It also lowers HDL ("good") cholesterol levels. 

A smoker had double the risk for stroke when compared to a non-smoker.  Smoking reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood, causing the heart to work harder and allowing blood clots to form more easily. Smoking also increases the amount of build-up in the arteries, which may block the flow of blood to the brain, causing a stroke.

Alcohol Use
Drinking an average of more than one drink a day for women or more than two drinks a day for men can raise blood pressure and may increase risk for stroke.

Reduce Your Risks

See a Healthcare Professional

Medical conditions such as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes and coronary artery disease add to the risk of stroke.  By keeping these conditions controlled, a person minimizes their increased risk. Work with health care providers to make lifestyle changes and take any medications if prescribed.

Increase Physical Activity

Exercise contributes to losing weight and lowering blood pressure.  Exercise also stands on its own as an independent source of reducing stroke risk.

Eat a Healthy Diet

Eat foods that improve your heart and brain health.  Diets high in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol can raise blood cholesterol levels. Diets high in sodium (salt) can increase blood pressure. Diets with high calories can lead to obesity.  A diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole-grains and high-fiber foods, fish, lean protein and fat-free or low-fat dairy products is the recommended.

Consume Less Sodium (Salt)

Limit sodium to no more than 2,300 mg (1 teaspoon) per day—and to no more than 1,500 mg (3/4 teaspoon) per day if you're over age 51, African American, or have diabetes, kidney disease, or certain other chronic conditions.

Lose Weight

Work to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Stop Using Tobacco

If you use tobacco products, take steps to stop.

Drink Less Alcohol

If you drink, keep it moderate (no more than two drinks a day for a man, no more than one a day for a woman).