A stroke happens when blood flow to the brain is cut off or blocked, either by narrowed blood vessels or by a blood clot. Also known as a brain attack, a stroke causes damage to the brain and brain cells often start to die after just a few minutes. This is why many people who suffer a stroke end up having some type of impairment, ranging from loss of vision to having problems walking or talking. In many cases, the damage caused by a stroke is irreversible.
There are two main kinds of strokes: an ischemic stroke, which is caused by a blood clot or blockages in the arteries, and a hemorrhagic stroke, which happens when blood vessels rupture. About 80 percent of strokes are Ischemic strokes. Sub-categories of ischemic strokes include thrombotic strokes, which is when plaque builds up on arteries leading to the brain, and embolic strokes, which are caused by a blood clot that is formed in another area of the body and breaks loose, traveling through the arteries and ending up hanging out in an artery near the brain, blocking it.
Symptoms of stroke include a sudden numbness in your arm, leg, or face, especially if it’s just one side of the body, sudden confusion speaking or understanding speech, sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes or vision dimness, sudden severe headache with no known cause and sudden dizziness or loss of balance. If you or someone you know experiences any of these symptoms, please get medical help immediately.
With blood flow being cut off to the brain, it’s not surprising that strokes can be deadly. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States, and it is something that can strike people of any age and background. In 2006, about 137,000 people died of stroke in the United States. That's about one in every 17 deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control, every 40 seconds someone in the U.S. has a stroke, and every three to four minutes, someone dies of one.
One of the many interesting things about strokes is that the risk of having one varies depending on your race and ethnic background.