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What is a stroke?

A stroke happens when blood flow to part of the brain is interrupted. This can cause serious brain damage from a lack of oxygen. Brain function may be affected depending on where the stroke happens. A stroke caused by a blood clot is called an ischemic stroke. Ischemic stroke is the most common type. A stroke caused by a burst or torn blood vessel is called a hemorrhagic stroke. When stroke symptoms go away completely within minutes to hours and do not cause damage, it is called a transient ischemic attack (TIA). A TIA is a warning sign that you are at risk of soon having a stroke.

What are the warning signs of a stroke?

The word F.A.S.T. can help you remember and recognize warning signs of a stroke:

  • F = Face: One side of the face droops.
  • A = Arms: One arm starts to drop when both arms are raised.
  • S = Speech: Speech is slurred or sounds different than usual.
  • T = Time: A person who is having a stroke needs to be seen immediately. A stroke is a medical emergency that needs immediate treatment. Most medicines and treatments work best the sooner they are given.
  • FAST Sings of a Stroke

What are the signs and symptoms of a stroke?

The signs and symptoms will depend on the type of stroke you had and where it occurred:

  • Sudden weakness in your arm, leg, or face
  • Sudden trouble walking
  • Trouble speaking or understanding words you read or hear
  • Vision changes
  • Sudden inability to feel part of your body or limbs
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Vomiting or a severe headache

What increases my risk for a stroke?

  • Older age
  • A family history of stroke or certain heart conditions
  • Diabetes, kidney disease, or high cholesterol
  • Migraine headaches
  • Atrial fibrillation, high blood pressure, or atherosclerosis
  • Smoking cigarettes, drinking too much alcohol, or using drugs such as cocaine
  • Not enough physical activity, or obesity
  • Sleep apnea or other sleep problems that affect your breathing
  • Oral birth control pills, especially in women older than 35 who smoke cigarettes
  • Hormone replacement therapy

How is a stroke diagnosed?

  • Blood tests may be used to check how well your blood clots or to check your blood sugar level.
  • CT or MRI may be used to find the area of the brain that was affected by the stroke. The pictures may also show bleeding in your brain. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal objects in the MRI scanner can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • Arteriography is a type of x-ray taken of your arteries to look for blood flow blockage and bleeding. Contrast liquid may be injected into your arteries to help the arteries show up on x-ray. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid.
  • A carotid ultrasound may show narrow or blocked carotid arteries. The carotid arteries are blood vessels in your neck that carry blood to your brain.

How is a stroke treated?

Treatment depends on the type of stroke you had:

  • Medicines may be given to prevent blood clots, break up clots, or help your blood clot more easily. You may need medicines to treat high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes.
  • Thrombolysis is a procedure used to break apart clots in an artery. A catheter is guided into the artery until it is near the clot. Medicine is put through the catheter that will help break apart the clot. Or, the clot is pulled out of the artery.
  • Surgery may be used to remove a blood clot or to relieve pressure within your brain. You may also need surgery to remove plaque buildup from your carotid arteries.

What can I do to care for myself after a stroke?

  • Go to rehabilitation (rehab) as directed. Rehab is an important part of treatment. A speech therapist can help you relearn or improve your ability to talk and swallow. You may start slowly and start doing more difficult tasks over time. Physical therapists can help you gain strength and build endurance. Occupational therapists can teach you new ways to do daily activities, such as getting dressed. Therapy can help you improve your ability to walk or keep your balance. Your therapy may include tasks or movements you will need to do for everyday activities. An example is being able to raise or lower yourself from a chair.
  • Make your home safe. Remove anything you might trip over. Tape electrical cords down. Keep paths clear throughout your home. Make sure your home is well lighted. Put nonslip materials on surfaces that might be slippery. An example is your bathtub or shower floor.
  • Use assistive devices. A cane or walker may help you keep your balance as you walk.

What can I do to prevent a stroke?

  • Manage health conditions. Conditions such as atrial fibrillation and diabetes can increase your risk for a stroke. Control your glucose carefully if you have hyperglycemia or diabetes.
  • Check your blood pressure as directed. High blood pressure can increase your risk for a stroke. If you have high blood pressure, follow your healthcare provider's directions for controlling your blood pressure.

  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can increase your risk for another stroke and cause lung damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Do not drink alcohol. Alcohol can increase your risk for a stroke. Alcohol may also increase your blood pressure or thin your blood. Blood thinning can increase your risk for hemorrhagic stroke.
  • Eat a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Choose foods that are low in fat, cholesterol, salt, and sugar. Eat foods that are high in potassium, such as potatoes and bananas.
  • Exercise as directed. Activity is important for preventing another stroke. You may need to work with an exercise therapist to learn how to exercise safely. Exercise may help you be able to do your normal activities more easily. Exercise also helps control your blood pressure and weight.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Ask your healthcare provider how much you should weigh. Ask him or her to help you create a weight loss plan if you are overweight. Ask about the best exercise plan for you.
  • Manage stress. Stress can increase your blood pressure. Find new ways to relax, such as deep breathing or listening to music.

What do I need to know about depression?

Depression can happen after a stroke. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have depression that continues or is getting worse. Your provider may be able to help treat your depression. Your provider can also recommend support groups for you to join. A support group is a place to talk with others who have had a stroke. It may also help to talk to friends and family members about how you are feeling. Tell your family and friends that if they see these signs, to let your healthcare provider know. You may show any of the following signs of depression:

  • Extreme sadness
  • Avoiding social interaction with family or friends
  • A lack of interest in things you once enjoyed
  • Irritability
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Low energy levels
  • A change in eating habits or sudden weight gain or loss

Where can I find support and more information?

  • National Stroke Association
    9707 E. Easter Lane
    Centennial , CO 80112
    Phone: 1- 800 - 787-6537
    Web Address:

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • You have any of the following signs of a stroke:
    • Numbness or drooping on one side of your face
    • Weakness in an arm or leg
    • Confusion or difficulty speaking
    • Dizziness, a severe headache, or vision loss
  • FAST Sings of a Stroke
  • You have a seizure.
  • You feel lightheaded, short of breath, and have chest pain.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your blood sugar level or blood pressure is higher or lower than usual.
  • You have trouble swallowing.
  • You fall.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have trouble having a bowel movement or urinating.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2018 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.