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For Patients

Understanding Stroke

Below are some frequently asked questions about stroke, along with answers.

What is a stroke?
Stroke is a “brain attack” occurring when the blood supply to the brain is cut off. Most strokes are caused by a clot in a brain artery or one that travelled there from another part of the body (embolic or ischemic stroke). Other strokes happen when a blood vessel in or near the brain ruptures, causing bleeding within or over the surface of the brain (hemorrhagic stroke). Stroke is the fifth leading killer and number one cause of disability in the United States.

What are the effects of a stroke?
A stroke victim can experience weakness or paralysis of one side of the body, loss of speech or the ability to understand others, memory loss or a combination of these. Strokes can be slight or severe, and symptoms can be temporary or permanent, depending upon the extent of damage to the brain. Injury from stroke can be harmful to quality of life and stroke can cause death. Possible complications from stroke include pneumonia or dangerous blood clots due to extended periods of immobility.

Can a stroke be stopped?
There are treatments available for stroke, but help must be sought quickly. Ideally, treatments should begin within three hours of the start of symptoms.

How can I reduce my risk of stroke?

  • Exercise regularly
  • Have your blood pressure checked every year
  • Have your cholesterol checked regularly
  • Have your heart rate and rhythm checked
  • Don’t smoke
  • Drink alcohol in moderation
  • Enjoy a low-salt, low-fat diet
  • If you have diabetes, take appropriate steps to control it
  • Ask your doctor if you have any circulation problems
  • Seek immediate attention if you have stroke symptoms


FAST Can Help

Remember the acronym FAST to determine If you or someone you love is having a stroke. 
F—Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A—Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S—Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is the speech slurred or strange?
T—Time: If you see any of these signs, call 911 right away.


For stroke emergencies, dial 911.

More Information

In an emergency call