What is a Stroke? | Torrance Memorial | South Bay

What is a Stroke?

A stroke, also known as "brain attack," is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. A stroke occurs when blood flow to an area of the brain is cut off, causing that part of the brain to be deprived of oxygen. This can lead to temporary or permanent impairment and, in severe cases, may cause death.

When it comes to stroke treatment, seconds count!

When determining if someone is having a stroke, remember to act FAST:

  • F - Face: Does one side of the person’s face droop when trying to smile?
  • A - Arms: Is the person able to raise both arms? Does one arm drift downward?
  • S - Speech: Is the person’s speech strange? Slurred? Ask them to repeat a simple phrase if you aren’t sure.
  • T - Time: Immediately call 911 upon noticing any of these symptoms.

Types of Stroke

Strokes are divided into three types:

Ischemic Stroke

The most common type of stroke, ischemic strokes account for approximately 80 percent of all strokes. Ischemic strokes occur when a blood clot partially or completely blocks blood flow to the brain.

Hemorrhagic Stroke

Hemorrhagic stroke accounts for 15 percent of all strokes; however, this type of stroke is more deadly than ischemic stroke and causes around 40 percent of all stroke deaths. Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when there is bleeding in your brain (a brain hemorrhage) and can be caused by a ruptured aneurysm, untreated high blood pressure, overuse of blood-thinning medication, or an otherwise weakened blood vessel.

Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIA)

A TIA occurs when you have a temporary period of stroke-like symptoms that can last anywhere from five minutes to 24 hours. Sometimes known as “mini-strokes,” TIAs may be caused by a blood clot, low blood flow, or narrowed blood vessels.

Even though TIAs may not cause permanent damage or lasting symptoms, you should still seek medical attention if you are experiencing stroke-like symptoms. TIAs can be a warning that you are at risk for a full-blown stroke in the near future or that you have a blood clot in your heart.


Symptoms of a stroke often appear suddenly. If you suspect someone is experiencing a stroke, keep track of when symptoms began. This is especially important because the treatment for stroke often depends on how much time has passed since the stroke symptoms first occurred.

Symptoms of a stroke may include:

  • Sudden, severe headache and/or vomiting
  • Trouble walking or keeping balance
  • Loss of coordination and feeling dizzy
  • Confusion
  • Inability to speak or understand speech
  • Numbness, weakness, or paralysis in the face or arms, especially if only on one side of the body
  • Difficulty seeing through one or both eyes

A stroke may cause permanent or temporary complications. These can include the symptoms above, but may also include:

  • Inability to manage emotions
  • Pain
  • Increased sensitivity to temperature changes
  • Memory loss
  • Change in behavior
  • Diminished ability to take care of yourself

Causes & Risk Factors

Strokes are caused by a lack of blood flow to the brain. There are many risk factors that can increase your chances of having a stroke. Some of these factors are a result of lifestyle choices, while others may be factors that cannot be controlled.

Lifestyle risk factors for stroke include:

  • Poor diet and nutrition
  • Low levels of exercise and physical activity
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke

Medical risk factors for stroke may be managed through medication or other treatments, and include:

  • High blood pressure (above 120/80 mm/Hg)
  • Atrial fibrillation (A-fib)
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Sleep apnea
  • Pregnancy, use of hormonal birth control, or other estrogen therapies
  • Congenital heart disease

Other risk factors for stroke include:

  • Personal or family history. Having a personal or family history of stroke or cardiovascular disease may increase your stroke risk.

  • Increased age. People age 55 or older double their risk of a stroke every decade.

  • Race. African-Americans have a higher risk of stroke compared to other races.

  • Sex. Men are at an increased risk of stroke at a younger age compared to women. Women are more likely to have a more severe stroke at a later age and are at an increased risk of serious disability or death from strokes when they do occur.

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