What is a Stroke?

What is a Stroke?

A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is disrupted, leading to a lack of oxygen reaching brain cells and tissues. Strokes can be caused by a blocked or ruptured artery and can lead to long-term disability, permanent brain damage, or death.

A stroke is a medical emergency. If you suspect you or someone else is having a stroke, call 9-1-1 right away.

Types of Stroke


The three major types of stroke are:

  • Ischemic stroke: The majority of strokes are ischemic strokes. These occur when a blood vessel in the brain becomes blocked or narrowed, which then affects blood supply. An ischemic stroke can be caused by a blood clot or fat deposits that build up in the blood vessels.
  • Hemorrhagic stroke: This type of stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures or leaks, leading to bleeding in the brain
  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA): A transient ischemic attack is an ischemic event when blood flow is disrupted but only lasts for a few minutes. Although transient ischemic attacks do not cause permanent brain damage, they can be a warning sign for future, more serious strokes.

Signs & Symptoms of a Stroke


Symptoms of a stroke include:

  • Weakness or paralysis of face, arm, and/or leg on one side of the body
  • Loss of coordination or movement
  • Confusion, dizziness, or fainting
  • Loss of sensation in the face, an arm, or a leg
  • Speech difficulty or vision problems

While women and men often report the same symptoms of stroke, women in particular may experience additional symptoms. Stroke symptoms in women may include:

  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • General weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Memory problems

When to think F.A.S.T.

A helpful acronym for remembering the symptoms of stroke is BE FAST. This phrase represents the following warning signs of a stroke, and reminds you to move quickly if you notice any of them:

  • Balance: If a person suddenly stumbles or loses their balance
  • Eyes: Sudden blurred, double, or loss of vision
  • Face drooping: Loss of muscle control or numbness on one side of the face, leading to a drooping appearance
  • Arms: Inability to fully lift one arm or arm weakness
  • Speech: Slurring, trouble speaking, or strange speech
  • Time: Time is of the essence when it comes to treating a stroke, so call 911 immediately if you notice any stroke symptoms

What Causes a Stroke?


A stroke is caused by a lack of blood flow and oxygen to the brain tissue. This can occur because of a blocked or narrowed artery (ischemic stroke) or because of a leaking or ruptured blood vessel (hemorrhagic stroke).

Stroke Risk Factors

Risk Factors

There are many factors that can increase your risk of stroke. Some are lifestyle factors that you can manage or control, but others are difficult or impossible to prevent.

Stroke risk factors include:

  • High blood pressure: By damaging the blood vessels in the brain, uncontrolled high blood pressure can increase your risk of stroke
  • Smoking
  • Heart disease: Any other medical condition that can cause blood clots or blockages in blood vessels can increase your risk of stroke. These conditions include coronary artery disease, heart valve disease, atrial fibrillation, or heart failure.
  • Sex: Stroke occurs more often in men, but women are more likely to die of stroke than men. Women are also at a high risk of stroke during pregnancy and in the weeks immediately following giving birth. Some pregnancy conditions like preeclampsia can also raise a woman’s risk of stroke later in life.
  • Race: Strokes occur more often in African-American patients than in white patients. This is partly because high blood pressure occurs more often in African-Americans.
  • Obesity and lack of exercise
  • Diabetes
  • Personal or family history of stroke



Strokes can cause temporary or permanent disabilities that range in severity, depending on how long blood flow to the brain was interrupted and which part of the brain was affected. Potential complications of stroke include:

  • Paralysis or loss of muscle function: Those who have had a stroke may lose control over the muscles in one side of the body or face. Muscles may be weakened or paralyzed completely.
  • Difficulty speaking and eating: If the muscles in the face, throat, and mouth were affected by a stroke, it can be difficult to form words or chew and swallow food
  • Memory loss and cognitive difficulties: A stroke can cause changes to how you process and retain memories, and may also lead to difficulties in reasoning or making judgments
  • Behavioral or mental health changes: Someone who has suffered a stroke may experience changes in how they process emotions, become depressed, or need help grooming and taking care of themselves
  • Pain: You may experience pain, tingling, or other new sensations in the part of the body affected by a stroke

Stroke Prevention


While strokes cannot be entirely prevented, there are some lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk of stroke. Some prevention methods include:

  • Maintaining a healthy diet: A healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables may help lower your risk of stroke, and a balanced diet can reduce the risk of obesity, a risk factor for stroke
  • Managing other health conditions: Managing conditions that are risk factors for stroke, including diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease, can help lower your risk of having a stroke
  • Avoid smoking, drugs, and excessive alcohol consumption: Avoiding cigarettes, illegal drugs, and alcohol (or drinking in moderation) can help reduce your risk of stroke
  • Preventative medications: If you’ve already suffered a stroke, your doctor may prescribe preventative drugs to lower your risk of having a second stroke. These medications can include statins, blood thinners, and other blood pressure medications.
  • Preventative surgeries: If you have a blood vessel that is in danger of becoming blocked, your doctor may recommend a procedure to remove the clot or widen the artery. These surgeries include carotid endarterectomy and carotid artery angioplasty.
Get Care

Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Stroke Treatment

At NewYork-Presbyterian, our cerebrovascular specialists work with you to identify and lower your stroke risk factors. If you or a loved one has already suffered a stroke, our physicians can create a personalized rehabilitation plan that is meant to not only manage stroke complications but help prevent another one from happening.