Stroke is the 5th leading cause of death in the US, with one person dying every 4 minutes as a result. For black people, stroke is the 3rd leading cause of death.

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What is a Stroke?

stroke-oklahoma-city-home-healthStroke occurs when the supply of blood to the brain is either interrupted or reduced. When this happens, the brain does not get enough oxygen or nutrients which causes brain cells to die.

Strokes occur due to problems with the blood supply to the brain; either the blood supply is blocked or a blood vessel within the brain ruptures.

There are three main kinds of stroke; ischemic, hemorrhagic and TIA. This article will focus on ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes, as there is a separate Knowledge Center article for TIAs, which goes into specific detail about them.

In the US, approximately 40% of stroke deaths are in males, with 60% in females. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), compared to white people, black people have nearly twice the risk of a first-ever stroke and a much higher death rate from stroke.3

In 2009, stroke was listed as the underlying cause of death in 128,842 persons in the US, resulting in an age-adjusted rate of 38.9 deaths per 100,000 population. The rate was almost twice as high among non-Hispanic blacks (73.6 per 100,000), and the rate of premature death from stroke was also higher among non-Hispanic blacks than their white counterparts (25.0 versus 10.2).

Stroke is also more likely to affect people if they are overweight, aged 55 or older, have a personal or family history of stroke, do not exercise much, drink heavily, smoke or use illicit drugs.


What causes stroke?

The different forms of stroke have different specific causes.

Ischemic stroke

Ischemic stroke is the most common form of stroke, accounting for around 85% of strokes. This type of stroke is caused by blockages or narrowing of the arteries that provide blood to the brain, resulting in ischemia - severely reduced blood flow.

These blockages are often caused by blood clots, which can form either in the arteries connecting to the brain, or in other blood vessels before being swept through the bloodstream and into narrower arteries within the brain. Clots can be caused by fatty deposits within the arteries called plaque.

Hemorrhagic stroke

Hemorrhagic stroke are caused by arteries in the brain either leaking blood or bursting open. The leaked blood puts pressure on brain cells and damages them. Blood vessels can burst or spill blood in the middle of the brain or near the surface of the brain, sending blood into the space between the brain and the skull.

The ruptures can be caused by conditions such as hypertension, trauma, blood-thinning medications and aneurysms (weaknesses in blood vessel walls).

Intracerebral hemorrhage is the most common type of hemorrhagic stroke and occurs when brain tissue is flooded with blood after an artery in the brain bursts. Subarachnoid hemorrhage is the second type of hemorrhagic stroke and is less common. In this type of stroke, bleeding occurs in the subarachnoid space - the area between the brain and the thin tissues that cover it.

Transient ischemic attack (TIA)

TIAs are different from the aforementioned kinds of stroke because the flow of blood to the brain is only briefly interrupted. TIAs are similar to ischemic strokes in that they are often caused by blood clots or other debris.

TIAs should be regarded as medical emergencies just like the other kinds of stroke, even if the blockage of the artery is temporary. They serve as warning signs for future strokes and indicate that there is a partially blocked artery or clot source in the heart.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over a third of people who experience a TIA go on to have a major stroke within a year if they have not received any treatment. Between 10-15% will have a major stroke within 3 months of a TIA.

Questions When a Loved One Has A Stroke

Why do you need to act fast? +

Getting fast medical treatment lowers your risk of disability or even death. That’s why it’s important to recognize the symptoms—and to get help right away.

What are the risk factors for stroke? +

Several conditions and certain lifestyle choices can put people at higher risk for stroke. The most important risk factors are—

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Prior stroke

Everyone can take steps to lower the risk for stroke.

What can you do to reduce your risk? +

You can take several steps to reduce your risk for stroke—

  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Be physically active.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Limit alcohol use.
  • Prevent or treat high cholesterol.
  • Prevent or treat high blood pressure.
  • Prevent or treat diabetes.

Talk with your doctor about the best ways to lower your risk for stroke.

How much does stroke cost the United States? +

Stroke costs the nation $34 billion annually, including the cost of health care services, medications, and lost productivity.

What does CDC do to address stroke? +

CDC has several initiatives to help people prevent and control stroke. CDC funds state health departments to develop interventions aimed at preventing stroke and controlling its risk factors. CDC also funds states to track stroke data through the Paul Coverdell National Acute Stroke Registry to improve hospital care. In addition, CDC supports a national plan with targeted recommendations and specific action steps to reduce heart disease and stroke across the country.

How many Americans die from stroke? +

Stroke kills almost 130,000 people a year in the United States. It is a leading cause of death.1 About 800,000 people die in the U.S. each year from cardiovascular disease and strokes. Stroke is also a leading cause of serious long-term disability.

What should you do if you think someone is having a stroke? +

If you think you or someone else is having a stroke, call 9-1-1 immediately.

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