An alarming one in three American adults has high blood pressure. Known medically as hypertension, many people don't even know they have it, because high blood pressure has no symptoms or warning signs. But when elevated blood pressure is accompanied by abnormal cholesterol and blood sugar levels, the damage to your arteries, kidneys, and heart accelerates exponentially. Fortunately, high blood pressure is easy to detect and treat. Sometimes…Learn More »
Protect your brain: That’s the strategy that Harvard doctors recommend in this report on preventing and treating stroke. Whether you’ve already had a mini stroke, a major stroke, or have been warned that your high blood pressure might cause a future stroke, this report provides help and advice.
Prepared by the editors of Harvard Health Publications in consultation with, J. Philip Kistler, M.D., Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School and Neurologist and Director Emeritus, Stroke Service, Massachusetts General Hospital with Natalia Rost, M.D., Stroke Neurologist, Massachusetts General Hospital, Instructor in Neurology, Harvard Medical School. 48 pages. (2010)
- Diagnosing a stroke
- Physical examination
- Laboratory tests
- Imaging and blood-flow studies
- Telecommunication and stroke (telestroke)
- Treating ischemic stroke
- Phase 1: Early, hyperacute phase
- Phase 2: Acute and subacute phase
- Phase 3: Prevention of secondary stroke
- Treating hemorrhagic (bleeding) stroke
- Medication for hemorrhagic stroke
- Assessing your needs
- Rehabilitation facilities and services
- Rehabilitation specialists
- What to expect
- Life after stroke
- The emotional impact of stroke
- Managing post-stroke pain
- Returning home
Who is at risk for stroke?
Of the approximately 795,000 strokes that occur in the United States each year, about 610,000 are first strokes, and 185,000 are recurrent attacks. Although the incidence of stroke has declined significantly since the 1960s, the strokes that do happen are just as severe. In fact, stroke is a leading cause of serious, long-term disability in the United States.
The odds of having a stroke more than double every 10 years after age 55. More than two-thirds of strokes involve people over 65. If you have a stroke, the risk of dying from it also increases with age: 88% of deaths from stroke are in people 65 and older.
Women have about 55,000 more strokes than men each year, and women make up about 60% of stroke deaths. Race is another risk factor. African Americans, for example, are almost twice as likely to suffer a stroke as are whites.
Although you can’t change your age, gender, or race, you can take steps to reduce other risk factors for stroke, especially ischemic stroke. The most common risk factors for both ischemic stroke and TIAs are high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes, unhealthy cholesterol levels, obesity, and cigarette smoking. All of these factors affect the health of your blood vessels—increasing the risk not only of stroke, but also of heart disease. That’s why medications and other steps you take to reduce the risk of an ischemic stroke will also benefit your heart.
Some types of hemorrhagic stroke are more likely to occur in people with chronic high blood pressure.. But other types of hemorrhagic stroke seemingly strike out of the blue. Although abnormal blood vessel conditions such as an aneurysm (a bubble in the blood vessel wall that could rupture) or an arteriovenous malformation (an abnormal tangle of blood vessels) increase the risk, these conditions may only be discovered inadvertently while you are undergoing testing for something else—or may not be discovered until a stroke occurs.
If you are at risk of having a stroke, prepare for an emergency by displaying important phone numbers prominently next to the telephone, such as the numbers of your doctor and a relative or close friend who should be contacted. It’s also a good idea to keep on hand a
Stroke warning signs and symptoms
Everyone should learn the following warning signs of stroke. If you experience any of these symptoms, immediately dial 911 or go to an emergency room:
- weakness in an arm, hand, or leg
- numbness on one side of the body
- sudden dimness or loss of vision, particularly in one eye
- sudden difficulty speaking
- inability to understand what someone is saying
- dizziness or loss of balance
- sudden, lasting, excruciating headache.
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