Dear Doctor: What Is a Stroke?

Did you know that every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. has a stroke, and every 4 minutes, someone in the U.S. dies from a stroke? Below are some commonly asked questions to help you recognize the signs or symptoms of a stroke.

What is a stroke?

A stroke happens when the blood supply to a part of the brain is disrupted by a blocked or ruptured blood vessel. This disruption of blood flow means that sufficient oxygen is not getting to the brain tissue and the brain tissue starts to die.

What are the different types of stroke?

An ischemic stroke happens when a blood vessel is blocked.

A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessels bursts or ruptures.

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) occurs when there is a transient loss of oxygen to a part of the brain. Symptoms usually resolve within 24 hours, but it is a very important warning sign that a large stroke may occur.

What are the signs and symptoms of stroke?

The mnemonic B.E. F.A.S.T. can help you remember some of the most common signs and symptoms of stroke.

B – Balance – feeling off balance and/or dizzy

E – Eyes – loss of vision in one eye or on one side

F – Face – facial weakness or droop

A – Arm – arm or leg weakness/numbness

S – Speech – slurred speech or difficulty understanding language

T – Time – time to call 911 immediately if you experience or witness any of these symptoms or signs

What are some of the common factors or conditions that increase one’s chance of having a stroke?

• High blood pressure

• Tobacco use

• High cholesterol

• Second-hand smoke

• Excess alcohol use

• Atrial fibrillation

• Substance abuse

• Sleep apnea

Most strokes can be prevented if these risk factors are properly evaluated and treated.

What are some treatment options for stroke?

For ischemic stroke, a “clot-busting medication” known as a tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) can be given within 4 and ½ hours after stroke symptoms start. This medicine has been shown to reduce disability from a stroke. In certain patients, a procedure can be performed to remove the clot from a blocked blood vessel. Again, this procedure must be done no later than 24 hours after symptoms start.

For certain types of hemorrhagic stroke, surgical procedures can be performed if treated early.

Dr. Anjail Sharrief is an assistant professor of neurology at McGovern Medical School and director of the Stroke Outpatient Program in the UT Physicians Neurology clinic at the Texas Medical Center. For more information, visit, or call 832.325.7080 to schedule an appointment.

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