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Stroke warning signs

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg (especially on one side of the body)
  • Sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden dizziness, trouble walking, or loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause
If you have any stroke symptoms, or see someone having any stroke symptoms, call 911 right away. Every minute counts! Current stroke treatments can raise the chances of recovering with few or no disabilities. But you must get help right away.

A stroke happens when part of your brain doesn't get the blood it needs. Most often, a stroke is caused by a blood clot blocking a blood vessel that goes to the brain. Sometimes a stroke is caused when a blood vessel in the brain breaks. If you have a stroke, some of your brain cells quickly begin to die.

With fast treatment, a person who has a stroke may suffer little or no brain damage. But severe brain damage can cause death or disability, including difficulty eating, being paralyzed, problems with thinking, trouble speaking, and emotional problems.

Stroke risk is higher for older people, people who have a family history of stroke, and for African-Americans. African-American men also have a higher risk of disability and death from stroke than white men. This is partly because more African-American men have high blood pressure, a major stroke risk factor.

Managing high blood pressure is the most important thing you can do to lower your risk of stroke.

These steps can also help prevent stroke:

  • Don't smoke.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat foods that are good for your heart, and keep cholesterol levels in check.
  • Make exercise a habit. Learn more about physical activity.
  • If you have heart disease, follow your doctor's instructions for managing it.
  • If you have diabetes, follow your doctor's instructions for eating, exercising, and taking insulin.
  • Limit alcohol use, which can cause high blood pressure.
  • Find healthy ways to manage stress.

Sleep apnea, which is a common condition that sometimes interrupts normal breathing during sleep, seems to put people at risk of stroke. If you think you may have sleep apnea, talk to your doctor.

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Content last updated: January 10, 2011.

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