Warning Signs and Risk Factors for Stroke

What is a Stroke?

A stroke (also known as a cerebral vascular accident) occurs when the blood supply to your brain is reduced or interrupted by a blood clot or a hemorrhage. This deprives the brain of oxygen and nutrients and causes brain cells to begin dying within a few minutes.

Stroke Warning Signs

The five warning signs of stroke are:

1) Sudden onset of weakness or numbness on one side of the body
2) Sudden speech difficulty or confusion
3) Sudden difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
4) Sudden onset of dizziness, trouble walking or loss of balance
5) Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately and the ambulance will take you to the nearest emergency room.

Stroke Risk Factors

Treating Increasing Strokes in Young People

Alexander Khalessi, MD, discusses treatment options, prevention and advances in care for people who experience stroke. - KUSI News

The following are risk factors for stroke and may be modified to lower your risk:
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat)
  • Elevated cholesterol
  • Being overweight
  • Tobacco usage
  • Heavy alcohol consumption

What Causes a Stroke?

Types of Stroke

Ischemic stroke: Occurs when blood vessels are blocked by a clot. The clot can be a thrombus, a clot that forms at the site of the blockage or an embolus, a clot that has moved from another part of the body and has become lodged in a blood vessel that feeds the brain.

  • 85 percent of strokes are ischemic. The most important risk factors for ischemic strokes are long-standing increased arterial blood pressure, diabetes and atrial fibrillation (irregular heart beat).

Hemorrhagic stroke: Occurs as a result of a rupture or perforation of blood vessels within the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes can be caused by long-standing arterial hypertension, aneurysms (a weakened blood vessel wall), trauma, drug abuse or malformations of the blood vessels.

  • Approximately 15% of all strokes are hemorrhagic. The most important risk factor for these strokes is arterial hypertension.

Transient ischemic attack (TIA): Sometimes called a “mini-stroke," a TIA is a warning sign of the potential for a future stroke. A TIA may last only a few minutes, or up to 24 hours. TIA occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is briefly interrupted. Symptoms are similar to those of a stroke but do not last as long.

  • About one third of strokes are preceded by one or more TIAs that can occur days, weeks or even months before a stroke.
  • If you experience a TIA, let your physician know immediately and schedule a follow-up appointment as soon as possible to discuss stroke prevention.

To schedule an appointment at the UC San Diego Stroke Center, call 858-657-8530.

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