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The Facts About Stroke

Linda S. Chen, MD
Linda S. Chen, MD is a board-certified neurologist at 317 W. Pueblo Street in Santa Barbara. Dr. Chen earned her medical degree from the University of Maryland Medical School and completed a VSA Clinical Neurophysiology Fellowship at Greater LA VA Healthcare System in Los Angeles before joining Sansum Clinic in 2011.

by Linda S. Chen, MD, Neurology

Stroke: What is it?

Quite literally, a brain attack! Strokes occur when blood flow to the brain is disrupted causing brain cells, known as neurons, to die. Strokes result in the sudden onset of central nervous dysfunction that can become permanent. Strokes usually affect the brain, but can also affect the spinal cord and the optic nerves that allow us to see.

Stroke: How do I recognize one?

  • Sudden facial weakness – A “droopy” face with garbled speech
  • Sudden weakness and/or numbness – usually affecting one side of the body, causing falls, difficulty walking and imbalance
  • Sudden language problems – inability to speak or understand
  • Sudden visual changes – loss of vision, partial or complete
  • Sudden confusion or loss of consciousness
  • Sudden headache with no known cause – may herald a hemorrhagic stroke

What do I do if I suspect a loved one is having a stroke?

Call 9-1-1, immediately! Clot-busting therapy is available to those who present early from the time of stroke onset.

Types of Stroke

There are varied causes of stroke. The majority of strokes are ischemic, caused by a blood clot that blocks blood to the brain. Ischemic stroke accounts for about 87% of all strokes, and within this class there are several subtypes. Hemorrhagic stroke or a bleed inside the brain accounts for 10% of all strokes and is associated with uncontrolled blood pressure. Subarachnoid hemorrhage, usually caused by a rupture of an abnormally dilated blood vessel known as an aneurysm, accounts for 3% of all strokes.

How do I prevent one?

Older age, gender, race and ethnicity, and genetic make-up can influence our risk for stroke. While we can’t change these factors, the good news is that there are many things we can do to reduce our risk of stroke.

According to the INTERSTROKE study, a case-control study of ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke in 22 countries*, nearly 90% of strokes can be explained by 10 major risk factors:

  1. Hypertension
  2. Diabetes
  3. Cardiac causes
  4. Cigarette smoking
  5. Diet
  6. Abdominal obesity
  7. Elevated cholesterol
  8. Physical inactivity
  9. Alcohol consumption
  10. Stress and depression

References: O’Donnell MJ, Xavier D, Liu L, et al. Risk factors for ischaemic and intracerebral haemorrhagic stroke in 22 countries (the INTERSTROKE study): a case-control study. Lancet 2010;376(9735):112-123.

© 2014 Sansum Clinic