Educational health information to improve your well-being.

What Causes a Stroke?

June 5, 2017
Published in: Stroke

Illustration showing the creative and analytical sides of the brain

You may already recognize the warning signs of a stroke. While the signs may vary from person to person, the trademark of these symptoms is that they come on suddenly. Someone experiencing a stroke may not be able to lift their arms, their face might droop on one side, or their speech might be slurred. Getting help fast can mean the difference between lifelong disabilities and a full recovery.

There are two primary types of strokes:

  • Ischemic Strokes
  • Hemorrhagic Strokes

Each type affects the brain in different ways and can have different causes.

Ischemic Strokes

Ischemic strokes are more common than hemorrhagic strokes. This type of stroke happens when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. These blood clots are commonly formed where fatty deposits known as plaques have narrowed or blocked arteries over time. This process is referred to as atherosclerosis.

As you age, arteries may narrow naturally, but there are a few factors that can dangerously accelerate this process. These include:

  • Excessive Alcohol Consumption
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • High Cholesterol Levels
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Diabetes

Atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat, can also cause ischemic strokes. Ischemic strokes may cause blood clots in the heart to break up and become lodged in the blood vessels that supply the brain with blood and oxygen.

Hemorrhagic Strokes

Hemorrhagic strokes are also referred to as intracranial hemorrhages or cerebral hemorrhages. These are less common than ischemic strokes and occur when a blood vessel bursts and bleeds inside and around the brain.

High blood pressure is the primary cause of this type of stroke because it may weaken the arteries in the brain, causing them to be susceptible to rupture or splitting.

Things that increase your risk for high blood pressure include:

  • Lack of Exercise
  • Smoking
  • Drinking Excessive Amounts of Alcohol
  • Stress (This can cause a temporary rise in blood pressure.)
  • Obesity

Reducing the Risk of a Stroke

It isn't possible to eliminate every risk of a stroke. Additional risks include:

  • Ethnicity – People of Asian, Caribbean, or African descent have higher risks of diabetes and high blood pressure which are also risk factors for a stroke.
  • Family History – When a close relative has experienced a stroke, the chances of developing a stroke are considerably higher.
  • Age – Individuals who are 65 years of age or older are more likely to have a stroke, but a stroke can also happen to anyone at any age.
  • Medical History – If you've had a heart attack or a mini-stroke known as a transient ischemic attack, your risk of a stroke is higher.

While you can't change the preceding factors, you can make lifestyle changes to avoid problems with high blood pressure and atherosclerosis. Seek medical advice if you suspect that you have an irregular heartbeat or other health issues that increase your risk for a stroke.

Strokes kill more than 130,000 people each year in the United States. This means that 1 out of 20 deaths are stroke related. Every year, more than 795,000 people experience a stroke. In the United States, someone has a stroke about every 40 seconds. Of those, nearly 1 in 4 are having their second stroke. Stroke costs $33 billion a year in missed work, health care services, and medications. It is also the leading cause of serious long-term disability in the U.S.

The Augusta Health Stroke Center is dedicated to providing the specialized care that stroke patients need. Visit their page to learn more about risk factors and rehabilitation options.