Most ischemic strokes occur rapidly, over minutes to hours, and immediate medical care is vital. If you notice one or more of these signs in another person or in yourself, do not wait to seek help. Call 9-1-1 immediately.
The signs of a stroke are:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion
- Sudden trouble speaking
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking
- Sudden dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
The effects of an acute ischemic stroke may cause additional symptoms in women including:
- Face, arm or leg pain
- Hiccups or nausea
- Chest pain or palpitations
- Shortness of breath
Not all symptoms occur with every stroke, and sometimes they go away and return.
Some patients experience symptoms that clear up within only a few minutes, which may be a sign of a transient ischemic attack (TIA). This is known to be one of the early warning signs of a stroke.
Causes and Risk Factors
Ischemic strokes occur when blood supply is cut off to part of the brain by a blood clot or narrowing of the arteries.
Blood clots may be caused by an irregular heartbeat such as arrhythmia, problems with the heart valve, infection of the heart muscle, hardening of the arteries, blood-clotting disorders, inflammation of the blood vessels, or a heart attack.
A less common cause of ischemic stroke occurs when blood pressure becomes too low (hypotension), reducing blood flow to the brain. This usually occurs with narrowed or diseased arteries. Low blood pressure can result from a heart attack, large loss of blood or severe infection. Each of these conditions affects the flow of blood through the heart and blood vessels and increases the risk of stroke.
Strokes can happen to a person of any age, including children. However, the older a person is, the higher their risk of stroke. Strokes are more common in men, but more women die from them. A family history of stroke, or a personal history of stroke or heart attack, also increase the risk of stroke. Research also has shown African-Americans are at higher risk of stroke than Caucasians.
The top preventable risk factor for stroke is smoking. Quitting smoking is a far more powerful way to prevent stroke than any other pill or procedure.
In people younger than 50, the more common causes of stroke also include migraine, drug abuse, consumption of "energy" drinks or herbal supplements, and arterial dissection, which occurs when a small tear forms in the innermost lining of the artery wall allowing blood to leak into the space between the inner and outer layers of the vessel.