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NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine, Trusted Health Information from the National Institutes of Health

Stroke Rehabilitation

What to Know – and Do! – About Stroke

1. Know Stroke

A stroke, sometimes called a "brain attack," occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted. When a stroke occurs, brain cells in the immediate area begin to die because they stop getting the oxygen and nutrients they need to function.

There are two forms of stroke:

  • an ischemic stroke occurs when a blood vessel supplying the brain becomes blocked; and a
  • hemorrhagic stroke occurs when there is bleeding into or around the brain.

2. Know the Signs

Because stroke injures the brain, you may not realize that you are having a stroke. To a bystander, someone having a stroke may just look unaware or confused. Stroke victims have the best chance if someone around them recognizes the symptoms and acts quickly.

What are the symptoms of a stroke?—

The symptoms of stroke are distinctive because they happen quickly—thus the origin of the name "stroke."

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg (especially on one side of the body)
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or understanding speech
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause

What should a bystander do?—

If you believe someone is having a stroke—if he or she suddenly loses the ability to speak, or move an arm or leg on one side, or experiences facial paralysis on one side—

call 911 immediately.

3. Act in Time

Stroke is a medical emergency. Every minute counts when someone is having a stroke. The longer blood flow is cut off to the brain, the greater the damage. Immediate treatment can save people's lives and improve their chances for successful recovery.

Why is there a need to act fast?—

Ischemic strokes, the most common type of stroke, can be treated with a drug called t-PA. T-PA dissolves blood clots that block blood flow to the brain. The window of opportunity to start treating stroke patients is three hours. But to be evaluated and receive treatment, patients need to get to the hospital within 60 minutes.


What is the benefit of treatment?—

A five-year study by NINDS found that some stroke patients who received t-PA within three hours of the start of stroke symptoms were at least 30 percent more likely to recover with little or no disability after three months.


What can I do to prevent a stroke?—

The best treatment for stroke is prevention. There are several risk factors that increase your chances of having a stroke:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Sedentary lifestyle

If you smoke—quit. If you have high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, or high cholesterol, getting them under control—and keeping them under control—will greatly reduce your chances of having a stroke.

Spring 2013 Issue: Volume 8 Number 1 Page 4