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Find out how much you know about strokes and what causes them.
A stroke happens when blood flow to a part of the brain stops. A stroke is sometimes called a "brain attack." If blood flow is stopped for longer than a few seconds, the brain cannot get blood and oxygen. Brain cells can die, causing permanent damage.
The blockage (clot of blood or some other mass) or bursted blood vessel leads to a sudden partial loss of brain function. Without oxygen and important nutrients, the affected brain cells are either damaged or die within a few minutes.
There are three main types of strokes: thrombotic, embolic, and hemorrhagic.
Other symptoms include blurred vision, difficulty talking, stumbling, and/or sudden clumsiness. Sometimes a mini-stroke, which lasts only a few moments and is called a transient ischemic attack (TIA), comes before a stroke.
Time is critical for stroke patients: You should seek immediate medical care. Research shows that treatment during the first hours after symptoms appear can be important for the best possible recovery. An emergency doctor or neurologist (a doctor who diagnoses and treats disorders of the brain and nervous system) will provide emergency treatment. Then a family doctor, internist, or geriatrician can step in and provide long-term care.
But the conditions leading to a stroke develop over many years. Risk factors or conditions that may lead to stroke include high blood pressure, smoking, heart disease, and diabetes. The risk of stroke increases with age and is higher in blacks and Hispanics than in whites.
Have your blood pressure checked often, and, if it is high, follow your doctor's advice on how to lower it. Treating high blood pressure reduces the risk for both stroke and heart disease. Cigarette smoking is strongly linked to increased risk for stroke. Research, however, shows that the risk of stroke for people who have quit smoking for two to five years is lower than for smokers. It is never too late to quit smoking.
Researchers think that exercise may make the heart stronger and improve circulation. It also helps control weight. Being overweight increases the chance of high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Physical activities like brisk walking, cycling, swimming, and yard work lower the risk of both stroke and heart disease. Talk with your doctor before starting an exercise program.
For some patients, recovery occurs within weeks following a stroke; for others, it may take many months or years. Stroke rehabilitation includes many kinds of therapies: physical therapy to strengthen muscles and improve balance and coordination; speech and language therapy; and occupational therapy to improve eye-hand coordination and skills needed for daily tasks such as bathing and cooking.