Get the Facts on Strokes

Published December 1, 2017


Pamela Santamaria, MD, neurologist

Did you know that stroke is one of the leading causes of death and disability in this country? The truth is, more than 800,000 people have a stroke every year and about 200,000 of these cases are second-time strokes. Pamela Santamaria, MD, neurologist at Nebraska Medicine, sheds some light on stroke and what you can do to prevent one.

Stroke occurs more in women than men.
True: Men are more likely to have a stroke prior to age 85, but women have more strokes after age 85. More of these women will also die from a stroke.

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Most strokes cannot be prevented.
False: A large study found that nine in 10 strokes could be prevented by modifying 10 primary risk factors. While some risk factors, such as age and genetics can’t be changed, modifying these 10 controllable risk factors can greatly reduce your risk: high blood pressure, exercise, cholesterol, diet, smoking, atrial fibrillation management, diabetes, obesity, alcohol consumption and stress.

Some people will experience warning signs before experiencing a stroke.
True: While the majority of people will have no warning signs before an impending stroke, a small number of people will experience a mini stroke, known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA) before they have a full stroke. One in three people who have a mini stroke will have a full stroke and half of these will occur within the first year of a TIA. A TIA is a short interruption of blood flow to the brain that generally does not cause permanent brain damage and causes similar symptoms as a stroke. “It is important to seek evaluation and treatment after a mini stroke so a stroke can be potentially prevented,” says Dr. Santamaria.

Nearly everyone will experience paralysis after a stroke.
False: Symptoms of a stroke can cause many types of neurological symptoms, not just paralysis. Common symptoms include visual changes, speech deficits, dizziness, balance difficulties, weakness to the arms or legs, numbness to the arms or legs or confusion.

The risk for persistent and disabling symptoms can be reduced if you are seen and treated immediately at a medical facility. People who are treated within three hours of an acute stroke with venous tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) will have the most positive outcomes. Arterial tPA can be given within six hours and can be provided by an experienced vascular neurosurgeon.  “Unfortunately, most people wait too long before they come in for treatment and the damage has already been done,” says Dr. Santamaria.

Once you have stroke, you are more likely to have another one.
True: If you suffer a stroke, you have 20 percent chance of suffering another stroke within the next five years. “However, if you are aggressive about modifying your risk factors, you can significantly reduce that risk,” says Dr. Santamaria.

The symptoms of a stroke typically come on gradually.
False: Stroke symptoms typically come on suddenly. If you suspect someone is having a stroke, call 911 for help right away. 

F.A.S.T is an easy way to remember the sudden signs of a stroke.

Face Drooping – Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person's smile uneven?

Arm Weakness – Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

Speech Difficulty – Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like "The sky is blue." Is the sentence repeated correctly?

Time to call 911 – If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 911 and get the person to the hospital immediately. Check the time so you'll know when the first symptoms appeared.