Skip Navigation LinksHome > November 2011 - Volume 5 - Issue 4 > Recognizing Stroke Symptoms: Don't Wait! (Online Bonus)
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doi: 10.1097/01.HEARTI.0000407815.14865.f9

Recognizing Stroke Symptoms: Don't Wait! (Online Bonus)

Rosdahl, Anne

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According to the American Stroke Association, approximately 795,000 Americans each year suffer a new or recurrent stroke. That means, on average, a stroke occurs every 40 seconds.

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There are two main types of stroke. An ischemic stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked; a hemorrhagic or bleeding stroke occurs when a diseased artery within the brain bursts, allowing blood to leak into the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes happen far less frequently than ischemic ones.

The good news is that many risk factors for stroke can be changed, treated or controlled, and new advances in stroke care and research are leading to better patient outcomes.

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“There are many simple and modifiable risk factors for stroke,” says Ralph Sacco, M.D., a stroke neurologist from the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami, Florida, and immediate past president of the American Heart Association. Controllable lifestyle factors that can raise your risk of having a stroke include:

* high blood pressure

* cigarette smoking

* diabetes

* atrial fibrillation

* carotid, peripheral or other artery disease

* other heart disease

* sickle cell disease (also called sickle cell anemia)

* poor diet

* physical inactivity and obesity

Uncontrollable risk factors for stroke include:

* Age: The older you are the greater your stroke risk.

* Gender: In most age groups, more men than women have strokes, but more women die from stroke.

* Heredity (family history): Your stroke risk is greater if a parent, grandparent, sister or brother has had a stroke.

* Race: African Americans have a higher risk of death and disability from stroke than whites because they have high blood pressure more often. Hispanic Americans are also at higher risk of stroke. “In South Carolina, young (ages 30 to 50) African American males have a higher rate of stroke than other areas of the United States, likely due to diet, hypertension and access to care,” says Edward Jauch, M.D., Director of Research in the Division of Emergency Medicine and the Department of Neurosciences at the Medical University of South Carolina and an expert in the field of stroke research.

* Previous stroke or TIAs: Having a stroke puts you at higher risk of having another one.

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“It's never too late or too early to take charge of your health and reduce your risk of stroke,” Sacco says.

With strokes on the rise among teens and young people, Sacco advises parents and guardians of children and teens to emphasize healthy eating and lifestyle habits that will last children a lifetime.

“Encourage your children to avoid stroke by preventing and controlling hypertension, diabetes and cholesterol, eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and foods low in sodium and saturated fat,” he says. “It's also important to maintain a healthy weight, engage in regular physical activity and to not smoke.”

For families and individuals who want to learn how to make healthier choices and reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke, Sacco recommends the website

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To learn more about stroke, visit and check out Stroke Connection magazine at If you're a caregiver of a stroke survivor, download a free book that offers the tools needed to navigate hospitals, insurance companies, therapists and doctors at

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Watch out for “The SUDDENS”

The common warning signs of a stroke (also called “The SUDDENS”) include:

* SUDDEN, severe headache with no known cause

* SUDDEN trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination

* SUDDEN trouble seeing in one or both eyes

* SUDDEN confusion, trouble speaking or understanding

* SUDDEN numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.

If you're experiencing one or more of these symptoms, don't wait. Note the time when symptoms start and call 9-1-1 or the emergency medical number in your area. Stroke is a medical emergency! There are treatments that can only be considered within 4½ hours of the onset of symptoms.

© 2011 American Heart Association, Inc.