National Stroke Awareness Month: Know the Risk Factors and Signs of a Stroke

Northwestern Medicine
Neurosciences May 14, 2012

Every 40 seconds someone in the United States has a stroke. Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death and the number one cause of adult disability in the country. While stroke often occurs without warning, understanding risk factors and learning to recognize symptoms can potentially save lives and limit damage if a stroke occurs. In recognition of National Stroke Awareness Month, Northwestern Medicine® experts encourage consumers learn about their potential risk factors and start making lifestyle decisions that may decrease their likelihood of having a stroke.

“A stroke occurs when a blocked blood vessel or artery interrupts blood flow to part of the brain or when bleeding occurs in the brain,” explains Richard Bernstein, MD, director of the stroke service at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and associate professor in the Ken and Ruth Davee Department of Neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “When blood flow is interrupted, the brain does not receive oxygen which causes brain cells to die. Depending on the severity of a stroke and where in the brain it occurred, speech, movement and memory may be impacted.”

Sometimes called “brain attacks,” strokes leave more than two thirds of survivors with lasting disability. While some stroke risk factors are impossible to change, others can be reduced or controlled with preventive lifestyle choices.

“Making healthy decisions can dramatically lower a person’s risk of having a stroke,” said Clyde Yancy, MD, associate director of Northwestern’s Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute and chief of the division of cardiology at Northwestern Memorial and the Feinberg School. “We know that lifestyle factors including being overweight, consuming too much salt and fat, smoking and excessive drinking, and being sedentary can all increase a person’s risk of stroke.”

Medical conditions, especially high blood pressure or hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes heighten the likelihood that a person will suffer a stroke. Stroke risk increases after age 55, though a stroke is possible at any age. African-Americans are at higher risk than Caucasians and men have a slightly higher occurrence than women. Family history is also an important indicator of a person’s stroke risk.

For more information on stroke, read the full press release.

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