|The waterfall at the South Natick Dam/Photo by Douglas Flynn
A stroke is a medical emergency and one of the leading causes of death in the United States.
As described by the National Institutes of Health, a stroke occurs when the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a portion of the brain is blocked. Without oxygen, brain cells start to die after a few minutes. Sudden bleeding in the brain also can cause a stroke if it damages brain cells.
If brain cells die or are damaged because of a stroke, symptoms occur in the parts of the body that these brain cells control. Stroke symptoms include sudden weakness, paralysis or numbness of the face, arms, or legs, trouble speaking or understanding speech and trouble seeing. A stroke can cause lasting brain damage, long-term disability or even death.
If you think you or someone else is having a stroke, call 911 right away. 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. During a stroke, every minute counts.
What should caregivers know about strokes
- There are two types of stroke. Ischemic strokes occur when an artery to the brain is blocked by a blood clot or build-up of plaque and fatty deposits. Most strokes, approximately 87 percent, are ischemic. Hemorrhagic strokes occur when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, causing bleeding within the brain. Only about 13 percent of strokes are hemorrhagic, but they account for more than 30 percent of all stroke deaths.
- Stroke is the fourth-highest cause of death in the United States, killing over 133,000 people annually.
- Some people recover completely from strokes, but more than 2/3 of survivors will have some type of disability.
- Approximately 795,000 strokes occur each year, 610,000 striking new victims while 185,000 are recurrent strokes.
- Some factors increasing the risk of stroke are beyond control. The risk of stroke increases with age, doubling each decade after 55. Gender and race are also factors, with 55,000 more women than men suffering strokes each year and African-Americans having almost twice the risk of suffering a first stroke as whites. African Americans are also twice as likely to die from stroke as Caucasians, while African-American stroke survivors are more likely to become disabled and experience difficulties with daily living and activities.
- Family history can also play a role, with strokes more common for people who have a close relative who has suffered a stroke or a family history of heart disease.
- Other conditions that can be controlled also affect the risk of stroke. High blood pressure or hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes all increase the risk of stroke, as do being overweight and smoking cigarettes.