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Skip Navigation LinksPennsylvania Department of Health > My Health > A-Z Health Topics > E-H > HEART DISEASE AND STROKE > Stroke

What is Stroke?

Stroke is a “brain attack”. It can happen to anyone at any time. It occurs when blood flow to an area of the brain is cut off. When this happens, brain cells are deprived of oxygen and begin to die. When brain cells die, abilities controlled by that area of the brain are lost. There are two types of stroke, hemorrhagic and ischemic. In addition there is transient ischemic attack (TIA), which mimics the symptoms of a stroke. Generally a TIA will not cause brain damage, but it is a serious warning sign of a potential future stroke.[1]
 
What are the Signs and Symptoms?
Warning signs of stroke include:
  • sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg (especially on one side of the body);
  • sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding;
  • sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; and
  • sudden severe headache with no known cause.
If you think someone may be having a stroke, use the F.A.S.T. test for a quick assessment.
F – Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A – Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S – Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred?
T – Time: If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.
 
What are the Risk Factors?
Many strokes are preventable by reducing your risk. You cannot change certain risk factors such as age, race, gender or family history. However, you can change the following:
  • unhealthy diet;
  • obesity;
  • physical inactivity;
  • tobacco use;
  • high blood pressure;
  • high blood cholesterol; and
  • management of diabetes. 
Resources
For more information and tools on stroke, its associated risk factors and how to control your risk, visit the following:


[1] Definition from the National Stroke Association