Every year, about 800,000 Americans have a stroke. A stroke is an attack caused by a clot or a ruptured vessel that has cut off blood flow to the brain. As many as 130,000 people will die each year from stroke-related complications, such as pneumonia or blood clots.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks stroke as the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. Research shows that men are more likely to have a stroke, particularly men who are African American, Native Alaskan, or Native American. But that’s only the short-term risk. The lifetime risk is much lower for men than it is for women. Men are also less likely to die from a stroke.
The ability to recognize stroke symptoms can help save lives. If you think someone is having a stroke, call your local emergency services immediately. Every second counts.
For men and women, stroke is marked by an inability to speak or understand speech, a strained expression, inability to move or feel a part of the body, and confusion. Someone who’s having a stroke may also have trouble talking or understanding conversation. There are no stroke symptoms unique to men.
The six most common symptoms of a stroke affect several parts of the body.
- Eyes: sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Face, arms, or legs: sudden paralysis, weakness, or numbness, most likely on one side of the body
- Stomach: throwing up or feeling the urge to be sick
- Body: overall fatigue or trouble breathing
- Head: sudden and severe headache with no known cause
- Legs: sudden dizziness, trouble walking, or loss of balance or coordination
The exact symptoms vary depending on which area of the brain is affected. Strokes often affect only the left or only the right side of the brain.
Researchers in a 2003 study evaluated public awareness of the six most common stroke symptoms. Their survey found that women did better than men in correctly identifying the signs of a stroke, but only by a few percentage points.
Both men and women have an increased risk of stroke if they:
- have high blood pressure, heart disease, atrial fibrillation, or diabetes
- have had a transient ischemic attack (a small stroke that can last a few minutes or hours)
- abuse drugs or alcohol
- are obese
- aren’t physically active
Another risk factor is living in a cluster of Southeastern states known as the “Stroke Belt.” Stroke mortality rates are significantly higher in these states:
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
Several factors contribute to this regional difference, including a higher population of African Americans, less access to primary stroke centers, and higher rates of unemployment, obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.
The National Stroke Association has developed an easy-to-remember strategy for recognizing stroke symptoms. If you think you or someone around you may be having a stroke, you should act FAST.
|Face||Ask the person to smile. Does one side of their face droop?|
|Arms||Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?|
|Speech||Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?|
|Time||If you observe any of these symptoms, call 911 or your local emergency services immediately.|
Remember that when it comes to a stroke, every second counts. Treatment for strokes work most effectively within the first hours after the first symptom started. Don’t wait to see if the symptoms disappear.
The longer you wait to call emergency assistance, the higher the chance of brain damage or disability from the stroke. Watch your loved one carefully while you wait for an ambulance to arrive.
Though you may want to, you shouldn’t drive yourself or your loved one to the hospital during a stroke. Medical attention may be needed while you’re traveling to the emergency room. Instead, call your local emergency services immediately and wait for the paramedics to arrive. They are trained to treat and take care of people while on a rush to the hospital.
After being admitted to the hospital, a doctor will review you or your loved one’s symptoms and medical history. They will also perform a physical exam and run diagnostic tests to determine if a stroke occurred.
For ischemic stroke
About 85 percent of strokes are ischemic. This means that a blood clot cut off blood flow to the brain. The doctor will administer a drug called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) to dissolve or break up the clot. To be effective, this medication must be administered within four and half hours of the first symptom’s appearance.
If tPA isn’t an option for some reason, your doctor will give you a blood thinner or other drug to stop platelets from clumping and forming clots.
Surgery and other invasive procedures are also options. Your doctor may perform an intra-arterial thrombolysis. During this procedure, medicine is delivered through a catheter inserted in your upper thigh.
Another option involves removing the clot through a catheter that reaches the affected artery in the brain. The catheter is coiled around the tiny arteries in your brain to help remove the blood clot. If you have plaque buildup in the arteries in your neck, your doctor may also suggest a procedure to unblock these arteries.
For hemorrhagic stroke
This type of stroke happens when an artery in the brain ruptures or leaks blood. Doctors treat a hemorrhagic stroke differently than they do an ischemic stroke. They also treat the stroke differently depending on the cause.
|High blood pressure||Your doctor may give you medicine to lower your blood pressure to reduce bleeding.|
|Aneurysm||Your doctor may suggest surgery to clip the aneurysm or block blood flow to the aneurysm through coil embolization.|
|Faulty arteries and veins that ruptured||Your doctor may recommend arteriovenous malformation repair to prevent further bleeding.|
Generally, men who survive strokes recover more quickly and with better health than women do. Men are also less likely to experience:
- stroke-related disability
- impaired daily living activities
- mental impairment
- poorer quality of life after stroke
Research suggests this could be due to pre-stroke physical activity and depressive symptoms.
It can take a lot of hard work to recover after a stroke. Rehabilitation won’t reverse brain damage, but it can help you relearn the skills you may have lost. This includes learning to walk or learning to talk.
The time it takes you to recover depends on the severity of the stroke. Although some people take a few months to recover, others may need therapy for years. People with paralysis or motor control problems may need long-term inpatient care.
Still, people who have had a stroke can live long and fulfilling lives if they follow through with rehabilitation and adhere to healthy lifestyles that can prevent future strokes.
It’s important that you prevent or treat conditions that put you at a higher risk for stroke, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol.