Stroke is a sudden interruption in the blood supply of the brain. And stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts (or ruptures).When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood (and oxygen) it needs, so it and brain cells die.


A stroke can happen in two main ways: Something blocks the flow of blood, or something causes bleeding in the brain.

Ischemic stroke. In 8 out of 10 strokes, a blood vessel that takes blood to your brain gets plugged. It happens when fatty deposits in arteries break off and travel to the brain or when poor blood flow from an irregular heartbeat forms a blood clot.

Hemorrhagic stroke. It’s less common than an ischemic stroke but can be more serious. A blood vessel in your brain balloons up and bursts, or a weakened one leaks. Uncontrolled high blood pressure and taking too much blood thinner medicine can lead to this kind of stroke.

Some people have what’s called a transient ischemic attack (TIA). This “mini stroke” is due to a temporary blockage. It doesn’t cause permanent brain damage, but it raises your odds of having a full-scale stroke.


  • Weakness or paralysis on one side of the body.
  • Feeling off-balance and having difficulty with coordination.
  • Changes or disruption in vision.
  • Difficulty communicating.
  • Cognitive challenges.
  • Muscle pain, headaches, back pain and neck pain.
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Muscle spasticity.
  • Seizures

Emotional and social symptoms can stem from the sadness and depression some experience after a stroke. Some patients also experience behavioral changes post-stroke.


You can treat some conditions that make you more likely to have a stroke. Other things that put you at risk can’t be changed:

High blood pressure. Your doctor may call it hypertension. It’s the biggest cause of strokes. If your blood pressure is typically 140/90 or higher, your doctor will discuss treatments with you.

TobaccoSmoking or chewing it raises your odds of a stroke. Nicotine makes your blood pressure go up. Cigarette smoke causes a fatty buildup in your main neck artery. It also thickens your blood and makes it more likely to clot. Even secondhand smoke can affect you.null

Heart diseaseThis condition includes defective heart valves as well as atrial fibrillation, or irregular heartbeat, which causes a quarter of all strokes among the very elderly. You can also have clogged arteries from fatty deposits.

Diabetes. People who have it often have high blood pressure and are more likely to be overweight. Both raise the chance of a stroke. Diabetes damages your blood vessels, which makes a stroke more likely. If you have a stroke when your blood sugar levels are high, the injury to your brain is greater.

Weight and exercise. Your chances of a stroke may go up if you’re overweight. You can lower your odds by working out every day. Take a brisk 30-minute walk, or do muscle-strengthening exercises like pushups and working with weights.

Medications. Some medicines can raise your chances of stroke. For instance, blood-thinning drugs, which doctors suggest to prevent blood clots, can sometimes make a stroke more likely through bleeding. Studies have linked hormone therapy, used for menopause symptoms like hot flashes, with a higher risk of strokes. And low-dose estrogen in birth control pills may also make your odds go up.

Age. Anyone could have a stroke, even babies in the womb. Generally, your chances go up as you get older. They double every decade after age 55.

Family. Strokes can run in families. You and your relatives may share a tendency to get high blood pressure or diabetes. Some strokes can be brought on by a genetic disorder that blocks blood flow to the brain.

Gender. Women are slightly less likely to have a stroke than men of the same age. But women have strokes at a later age, which make them less likely to recover and more likely to die as a result.

Race. Strokes affect African-Americans and nonwhite Hispanic Americans much more often than any other group in the U.S. Sickle cell disease, a genetic condition that can narrow arteries and interrupt blood flow, is also more common in these groups and in people whose families came from the Mediterranean, the Middle East, or Asia.

What Can Help Prevent a Stroke?

Lower Your Blood Pressure

Lower Your Blood Pressure High blood pressure is the No. 1 cause of strokes. It’s the reason for more than half of them. A normal blood pressure reading is lower than 120/80. If yours is regularly above 130/80, you might have high blood pressure, or hypertension.

If it’s not managed well, high blood pressure can make you 4-6 times more likely to have a stroke. This is because it can thicken the artery walls and make cholesterol or other fats build up and form plaques. If one of those breaks free, it can block your brain’s blood supply.

High blood pressure also can weaken arteries and make them more likely to burst, which would cause a hemorrhagic stroke.

If you have high blood pressure, work with your doctor to keep your pressure in the healthy range. Medication and lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise and eating healthy, can help.

High blood pressure also can weaken arteries and make them more likely to burst, which would cause a hemorrhagic stroke.

If you have high blood pressure, work with your doctor to keep your pressure in the healthy range. Medication and lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise and eating healthy, can help.

Stay Away From Smoking

You double your risk of a stroke if you use tobacco. Nicotine in cigarettes raises blood pressure, and carbon monoxide in smoke lowers the amount of oxygen your blood can carry. Even breathing secondhand smoke can raise your chances of a stroke.

Tobacco can also:

  • Raise your levels of a blood fat called triglycerides
  • Lower your levels of “good” HDL cholesterol
  • Make your blood sticky and more likely to clot
  • Make plaque buildup more likely
  • Thicken and narrow blood vessels and damage their linings

Talk to your doctor about ways to quit smoking. Nicotine patches and counseling can help. Don’t give up if you don’t succeed the first time.

Manage Your Heart

An irregular heartbeat, called atrial fibrillation (AFib), is behind some strokes caused by blood clotsAFib makes blood pool in your heart, where it can clot. If that clot travels to your brain, it can cause a stroke. You can have AFib because of high blood pressure, plaques in your arteries, heart failure, and other reasons.

Medications, medical procedures, and surgery can get your heart back into normal rhythm. If you don’t know if you have AFib but feel heart flutters or have shortness of breath, see your doctor.

Cut the Booze

Too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure and your triglycerides. Limit yourself to no more than two drinks a day if you’re a man and one drink if you’re a woman.null

Drinking too much can cause AFib, too — binge drinking (downing 4-5 drinks within 2 hours) can trigger an irregular heartbeat.

Control Your Diabetes

High blood sugar can make you 2-4 times more likely to have a stroke. If it’s not managed well, diabetes can lead to fatty deposits or clots inside your blood vessels. This can narrow the ones in your brain and neck and might cut off the blood supply to the brain.

If you have diabetes, check your blood sugar regularly, take medications as prescribed, and see your doctor every few months so they can keep an eye on your levels.null


Being a couch potato can lead to obesityhigh cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure — a recipe for stroke. So get moving. You don’t have to run a marathon. It’s enough to work out 30 minutes, 5 days a week. You should do enough to make you breathe hard, but not huff and puff. Talk to your doctor before you start exercising.

Eat Better Foods

Healthy eating can lower your risk of a stroke and help you shed weight if you need to. Load up on fresh fruits and veggies (broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and leafy greens like spinach are best) every day. Choose lean proteins and high-fiber foods. Stay away from trans and saturated fats, which can clog your arteries. Cut salt, and avoid processed foods. They’re often loaded with salt, which can raise your blood pressure, and trans fats.

Watch the Cholesterol

Too much of this can clog your arteries and lead to heart attack and stroke. Keep your numbers in the healthy range:null

If diet and exercise aren’t enough to keep your cholesterol in check, your doctor may recommend medication.

Don’t Ignore the Snore

Loud, constant snoring may be a sign of a disorder called sleep apnea, which can make you stop breathing hundreds of times during the night. It can boost your chances of a stroke by keeping you from getting enough oxygen and raising your blood pressure.

Take Your Meds

If you’ve already had a stroke, make sure to take any medicine your doctor gives you to help prevent another one. At least 25% of people who have a stroke stop taking one or more of their drugs within 3 months. That’s especially dangerous because that’s when you’re most likely to have another one.

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