What is a stroke?

What is a stroke, and what are its warning signs? This isn’t common knowledge to many people. It should be.

A stroke is basically injury to the brain or spinal cord (yes, spinal cords can stroke) caused by lack of blood to that tissue. Strokes can be due to blockage of blood vessels feeding the brain, or from the rupture of blood vessels causing bleeding in the brain. They often occur suddenly without much warning. Patient symptoms can include sudden onset weakness of usually one side of the body, vision loss, speech and language problems, or coordination problems.

If you ever witness somebody having sudden stroke symptoms, DO NOT put anything in their mouth, and DO NOT give them aspirin.  About 20 percent of strokes can be the bleeding type, and giving aspirin can potentially make them worse.

So why do we care about stroke? Well, 795,000 Americans have strokes every year and approximately 180,000 die from their strokes.  Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke. Stroke is the number one cause of disability and recently became the number four cause of death in the United States. More people die from cardiac disease, cancer, and pulmonary disease, but stroke is still a major problem in our population.

What can we do about this? Ideally, we can all exercise, eat right, and see our doctors regularly to treat stroke risk factors. But who has time for that? (Hopefully I can convince you with this blog to take your lifestyle seriously and prevent a stroke.) Unfortunately, we have generations of people who haven’t been taking great care of themselves and we are now seeing the consequences of that in our emergency rooms.

There are a few risk factors we can’t change, however. Among them: age. Older people get strokes more often. But please don’t wait until you have your first stroke to take your health seriously. The time is now, and I will show you how. Remember, prevention is always going to be much easier than treatment. And you will be happier in the long run.

Hormozd Bozorgchami, M.D.
Instructor and fellow, Oregon Stroke Center
OHSU Brain Institute

2 responses to “What is a stroke?

    1. Hi, Bette! Thanks for the great question. I asked Dr. Bozorgchami to help clarify the difference between a heart attack and a stroke and this is what he shared with me:

      A heart attack is due to blocked blood vessels to the heart, which causes a part of the heart to die. Typical symptoms are chest pain, pain in the left arm with sweating and shortness of breath. A stroke is due to lack of blood to a part of the brain which causes a part of the brain to die. Symptoms of stroke include weakness to a part of a body, vision loss, speech/language symptoms, coordination problems or numbness. – Dr. Bozorgchami

      Hope this helps to answer your question! -Anne

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