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FAQ (Health)

 Dr. George Jacob
Heart Infocenter




Stroke ranks as the third leading killer in the United States. A stroke can be devastating to individuals and their families, robbing them of their independence. It is the most common cause of adult disability.

Annually, 770,000 new strokes occur. Approximately 160,000 people died from acute stroke in 1998; almost half of these deaths occurred out of a hospital.

Of those who survive an initial stroke, 25% will die within a year. Average post-stroke survival rate for stroke victims is seven years. There were 4.4 million stroke-survivors in 1998.

The recovery from a stroke depends on its severity. 15-30% of survivors remain permanently disabled. Fourteen percent of those who have a first stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA) will have another stroke within one year.

72% of victims of stroke are older than age 65. Age is the most significant risk factor for stroke. The incidence of stroke more than doubles in each successive decade of life over age 55.

Stroke is quite expensive. In the United States alone, the total cost to Medicare for short-term hospital stays due to stroke totaled $3.8 billion in 1997. It is estimated that annual direct and indirect costs for stroke care total $40 billion. The majority of strokes (77%) are ischemic; intracerebral hemorrhages account for 17% of strokes, and subarachnoid hemorrhages account for 6%. (See Types and Causes of Stroke to learn more.) 

The good news is that treatments are available that can greatly reduce the damage caused by a stroke. The bad news is that to prevent serious disability, you need to recognize the symptoms of a stroke and get to a hospital and treatment within 60 minutes.

More than a million stroke survivors in the US suffer little or no long-lasting disability from their strokes. Another two million, however, live with the crippling and lifelong disabilities of paralysis, loss of speech, and poor memory. Scientists at the National Institutes of Health predict that, with continued attention to reducing the risks of stroke and by using currently available therapies and developing new ones, we should be able to prevent 80 percent of all strokes by the end of the decade.

What is Stroke?

A stroke, sometimes called a "brain attack," occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, spilling blood into the spaces surrounding brain cells.

Brain cells die when they no longer receive oxygen and nutrients from the blood or when they are damaged by sudden bleeding into or around the brain. The inadequate blood flow to the brain resulting in the loss of oxygen and nutrients for brain cells is called Ischemia. Ischemia will ultimately result in infarction, the death of brain cells. These cells are eventually replaced by a fluid-filled cavity (or infarct) in the injured brain.

When blood flow to the brain is interrupted, some brain cells die immediately, while others remain at risk for death. With timely treatment these cells can be saved.

Caution: If you suspect a stroke, seek emergency medical treatment immediately. Time is of essence.

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