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Stroke (cont.)

What Increases Your Risk

Risk factors for stroke include those you can treat or change and those you can't change.

Risk factors you can treat or change:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension).
  • Atrial fibrillation.
  • Diabetes.
  • Smoking.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Heavy use of alcohol.
  • Being overweight.
  • Physical inactivity.

Risk factors you cannot change include:

  • Age. The risk of stroke increases with age.
  • Race. African Americans, Native Americans, and Alaskan Natives have a higher risk than those of other races.
  • Gender. Stroke is more common in men than women until age 75, when more women than men have strokes. Because women live longer than men, more women have strokes each year.
  • Family history. The risk for stroke is greater if a parent, brother, or sister has had a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA).
  • History of stroke or TIA.

When To Call a Doctor

Callor other emergency services immediately if you have signs of a stroke:

  • Sudden numbness, tingling, weakness, or loss of movement in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.
  • Sudden vision changes.
  • Sudden trouble speaking.
  • Sudden confusion or trouble understanding simple statements.
  • Sudden problems with walking or balance.
  • A sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches.

Signs of a transient ischemic attack are similar to signs of a stroke. But TIA symptoms usually disappear after 10 to 20 minutes. There is no way to tell whether the symptoms are caused by a stroke or by TIA, so emergency medical care is needed for both conditions.

Call your doctor immediately if you have:

  • Had recent symptoms of a TIA or stroke, even if the symptoms have disappeared.
  • Had a TIA or stroke and are taking aspirin or other medicines that prevent blood clotting and you notice any signs of bleeding.
  • Had a stroke and have a choking episode from food going down your windpipe.
  • Had a stroke and have signs of a blood clot in a deep blood vessel, which include redness, warmth, and pain in a specific area of your arm or leg.

Call your doctor for an appointment if you:

  • Think you have had a TIA in the past and have not talked with your doctor about it.
  • Have had a stroke and have a pressure sore.
  • Have had a stroke and notice that your affected arm or leg is becoming increasingly stiff or you are not able to straighten it (spasticity).
  • Have had a stroke and notice signs of a urinary tract infection. Signs may include fever, pain with urination, blood in urine, and low back (flank) pain.
  • Have had a stroke and you are having trouble keeping your balance.

Watchful waiting

Watchful waiting is not appropriate if you have signs of a stroke. Emergency medical care is needed to prevent or treat any complications that may be life-threatening. Prompt treatment may prevent extensive damage to the brain, reducing permanent disabilities from the stroke.

If the stroke is caused by a blood clot, early care by a doctor in the emergency room or hospital is critical. If you seek help right away, you can sometimes receive a medicine (tissue plasminogen activator, or t-PA) that dissolves clots. This medicine works best when it is given right after symptoms begin. Not everyone can safely receive this medicine.

Who to see

Doctors who can diagnose and treat stroke include:

If you need surgery or have other health problems, other specialists may be consulted, such as a:

Some hospitals have a stroke team made up of many different health professionals, such as a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, a speech therapist, a rehabilitation doctor (physiatrist), a nurse, and a social worker.

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.


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