Older African American man smiling after recovering from stroke.


In the U.S., stroke is the fifth leading cause of death, just below heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease and accidents. A stroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate care. 

Time lost is brain fuction loss. For every minute without treatment during a stroke, you lose up to two million brain cells. For every 30 minutes without blood flow to the brain, your chance for the best outcome decreases to 10 percent. If you or someone near you is having a stroke, call 911 at once.

In order for your brain to work properly, it needs a constant supply of oxygen-rich blood. A stroke cuts off blood flow to the brain. When blood flow stops for even a few minutes, brain cells die permanently, which can affect any bodily function, depending on where in the brain the stroke happens. 

Stroke can affect your ability to:

  • Control vital body functions 

  • Eat, drink and swallow

  • Move your arms or walk

  • See clearly

  • Speak

  • Think and remember

Types of stroke

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies three types of stroke—hemorrhagic, ischemic and transient ischemic attack. The type of stroke you have will affect your treatment and recovery.

Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in your brain bursts, causing uncontrolled bleeding. Nearby brain cells can't get the oxygen and nutrients they need. Bleeding also causes pressure to build up in surrounding tissues, causing irritation and swelling. All these problems can cause the cells in your brain to die. 

Causes of hemorrhagic stroke include:

  • Aneurysm

  • Arteriovenous malformation, or AVM

  • High blood pressure 

Ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke, making up about 87 percent of all strokes. Ischemic stroke is when a blood vessel to the brain becomes blocked, stopping blood flow to a part of the brain. Brain tissues begin to die within minutes from lack of oxygen and nutrients.

Two types of ischemic strokes are: 

  • Embolic strokes—caused by a blood clot or plaque that travels through the bloodstream to one of the brain's blood vessels.

  • Thrombotic strokes—a blood clot that develops in the blood vessels inside the brain.

Transient ischemic attack (TIA) is also called a ministroke, TIA causes symptoms similar to those of an ischemic stroke. The difference is that TIAs usually clear up within a few minutes to an hour and don’t cause permanent brain damage. TIA is a warning sign for a stroke. 

The most common causes of TIA are:

  • One of the major blood vessels to the brain, usually one of the carotid arteries, is narrowed from plaque, a fatty substance that clogs the artery and reduces blood flow.

  • A blood clot travels from a different part of the body to the brain.

  • Plaque buildup narrows brain's blood vessels. 

It's impossible to know if you're having a TIA or an ischemic stroke. If you or someone nearby has any stroke symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.

Stroke risk factors

Stroke can affect anyone at any age. Certain risk factors increase your change of stroke, such as:

  • Abnormal heart rhythm (atrial fibrillation)—an irregular heartbeat that is a treatable factor for stroke.

  • Diabetes—people with diabetes are at greater risk for a stroke than someone without this condition.

  • Excessive use of alcohol

  • Heart disease—an significant risk factor for stroke and a major cause of death among stroke survivors. Heart disease and stroke have similar risk factors.

  • High blood pressure—a blood pressure reading of 140/90mmHg or higher can damage blood vessels that supply blood to the brain.

  • High cholesterol—contributes to thickening or hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) caused by plaque buildup.

  • Lack of exercise

  • Obesity 

  • Sickle cell disease—a serious inherited blood disorder where red blood cells develop abnormally.

  • Smoking—almost doubles your risk for an ischemic stroke.

Stroke symptoms

Any type of stroke is an emergency situation. It’s important for everyone to know the signs of a stroke and get help quickly. 

While symptoms may vary, they can happen suddenly and include:

  • A severe headache with no known cause, especially when it happens suddenly 

  • Difficulty moving or walking

  • Dizziness or problems with balance or coordination 

  • Fainting, confusion or seizure

  • Loss of vision in one or both eyes 

  • Sudden nausea or vomiting not caused by a viral illness

  • Trouble talking or understanding others speaking

  • Weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg, usually on one side of the body 

Stroke treatment is most effective when started right away. Call 911 or your local emergency number right away.

FAST help for stroke

FAST is an easy way to remember the signs of a stroke. 

FAST stands for: 

  • Face—one side of the face droops when the person smiles.

  • Arm—one arm may drift downward when the person lifts both arms at the same time. 

  • Speech—the person may have slurred speech, difficulty speaking or can't repeat a simple sentence correctly. 

  • Time—If someone shows any of these symptoms call 911 even if the symptoms go away. Make note of the time the symptoms first appeared. 

Why choose The Christ Hospital Health Network

Stroke patients have immediate access to the latest approaches for the diagnosis and treatment of stroke. 

Our dedicated neurosurgery team includes expert neurosurgeons and neuroradiologists. They combine compassion and experience with the most advanced technologies to ensure the highest-quality treatment for stroke.

Stroke patients also have access to CARF-accredited inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation services.

Get more information about brain stroke care at The Christ Hospital Health Network.