Stroke: The risks and warning signs

May 20, 2015 By Timothy Parsons, M.D.

Dr. Timothy ParsonsNearly 800,000 Americans suffer a stroke each year, and each year about 130,000 people die from a stroke. It one of the leading causes of disability in the United States. This unfortunate situation could be improved if people knew more about stroke warning signs and how to prevent strokes from happening. The month of May is National Stroke Awareness Month and an opportune time to share this important information. 

What is a stroke?
Essentially, a stroke is an injury to the brain that occurs when a blood vessel that feeds the brain is either closed off by a clot (an ischemic stroke) or bursts (a hemorrhagic stroke). If deprived of its oxygen-rich blood supply even for just a few minutes, the brain becomes injured, and a portion of it may die.

Depending on its severity, a stroke may result in disability, such as motor or vision impairment, loss of feeling, difficulty with speech and language, or problems with memory. A stroke may also result in paralysis, coma or death.

Who is at risk?
A stroke usually results from cardiovascular disease, which develops over time. People affected by this type of stroke have one or more risk factors for stroke that have existed for years. Lifestyle factors and other health conditions that weaken blood vessels or contribute to blood clots increase your risk for stroke. You can control or treat some of them, such as high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, carotid artery disease, abnormal heart rhythm, certain blood disorders, sickle cell disease, high blood cholesterol or triglycerides, physical inactivity, obesity and substance abuse.

Factors you cannot change include increasing age, gender (men are at higher risk for stroke than women), family history, race (African-Americans face greater risk) and having had a prior stroke, heart attack, or transient ischemic attack (TIA) – temporary stroke symptoms lasting minutes to hours.

To reduce your stroke risk:
  • Have regular checkups. Some major risk factors for stroke — high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes — often don’t have symptoms in their early stages. That’s why regular screenings are important to detect these risks while they’re still treatable.
  • Make lifestyle changes. Adopt a stroke-protective lifestyle by reaching a healthy weight, lowering your salt intake, exercising regularly, limiting alcohol and quitting smoking.
  • Follow your prescribed treatment. Atherosclerosis patients who follow their doctors’ advice about lifestyle changes and take their medications as directed will reduce their risk of stroke and heart attack.
Warning signs
If you or someone nearby has any of these stroke symptoms, dial 911 right away. These signs point to a stroke in progress. Seeking emergency medical treatment immediately may prevent severe disability or death.
  • sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • sudden, severe headache with no known cause
Stroke care at THOCC
The Hospital of Central Connecticut is designated a Primary Stroke Center by the Joint Commission of Hospital Accreditation. In 2014, HOCC received the Get With The Guidelines® - Stroke Gold-Plus Quality Achievement Award after implementing key quality improvement measures outlined by the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. For more information about HOCC’s Stroke Center, located at both its New Britain General and Bradley Memorial campuses, click here.

Dr. Timothy Parsons is a member of The Hospital of Central Connecticut (HOCC) medical staff and medical director of HOCC’s Stroke Center. For referrals to HOCC physicians, please contact our free Find-A-Physician referral service by phone at 1.800.321.6244 or online at