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What is Stroke?

Stroke, also known as a cerebrovascular accident, is the third leading cause of death and one of the leading causes of long term disability in Kentucky.  More than 2,500 Kentuckians die each year from stroke, and more than $200 million is spent to treat stroke patients annually.

Stroke is sometimes called a “brain attack” because it is similar to a heart attack.  But instead of a blockage occurring in an artery leading to the heart, the blockage occurs in an artery leading to the brain.  The two main types of stroke are ischemic and hemorrhagic.  Ischemic stroke is the most common form and occurs when blood flowing to the brain is blocked by a blood clot.  Hemorrhagic stroke is more serious and occurs when a blood vessel ruptures in the brain.  When oxygen rich blood can’t reach the brain then permanent brain damage can result such as memory loss, impaired vision and language, paralysis, or even death. 

Risk Factors


The main stroke risk factors that can be changed, controlled or treated are cigarette smoking, high blood cholesterol, obesity, physical inactivity and diet low in fruits and vegetables.  The biggest modifiable risk factor is high blood pressure.  It is important for people to check blood pressure regularly.  Ideally, blood pressure should be 120/80 or lower.  If you currently do not take blood pressure medication, and your blood pressure is between 120/80 and 139/89, talk to a physician about some lifestyle modifications you can do to lower it naturally.  If your blood pressure is 140/90 or higher, contact a physician immediately. 


The major stroke risk factors that cannot be changed are increasing age (over 55 years), being male, African-American, family history of stroke or heart disease, or a previous stroke.

Strokes can be prevented by adopting a healthy lifestyle of not smoking, eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, and most importantly, keeping blood pressure under control. 

Warning Signs

Stroke can happen to anyone, so it’s important that everyone knows the possible signs of a stroke.  The sudden signs to look for are:

  • Feeling numb or weak on one side of the body or face
  • Difficulty speaking clearly
  • Difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
  • Difficulty walking or feeling dizzy
  • A very bad headache, with no known cause

A simple three-point test can help save someone’s life.  If someone showing the above signs, do the following three things quickly:

  1. Ask the person to smile.  If there is facial droop on one side, call 9-1-1.
  2. Ask the person to raise both arms.  If one arm rises, and the other drifts, call 9-1-1.
  3. Ask the person to speak a simple sentence.  If the speech is slurred, call 9-1-1.
Take Action

If you or someone with you has one or more of the warning signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.  Do not wait, even if the symptoms only last a few minutes because this could be a stroke warning sign called a TIA (transient ischemic attack).  Also, make a point to remember the time when you noticed the first symptoms appearing. If given within three hours of the start of symptoms, a clot-busting drug can reduce long-term disability for the most common type of stroke.


Last Updated 10/21/2009