A stroke occurs when a blood clot or broken blood vessel interrupts the flow of blood to the brain. The difference between a mild stroke and a major one is timing. Getting emergency treatment within an hour of a stroke can prevent disability. The longer blood flow is cut off to the brain, the greater the damage. Doctors use a standardized patient questionnaire, the NIH Stroke Scale, to determine the severity of a stroke.
There are two kinds of stroke, or "brain attack." The most common type is an ischemic stroke, which is caused by a blood clot that blocks a blood vessel or artery in the brain. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain breaks and blood bleeds into the brain.
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke and a controllable risk factor for stroke, according to the American Stroke Association.
People with diabetes are at an increased risk for stroke. Many people with diabetes also have high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol and are overweight. While diabetes is treatable, the presence of the disease continues to increase the risk for stroke.
High cholesterol, which are high rates of fat in the bloodstream, is also one of the top causes of stroke. Cholesterol buildup in the arteries can block normal blood flow to the brain and cause a stroke, according to the National Stroke Association.
Cigarette smoking has been proven to be an important risk factor for stroke, according to the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke damages the cardiovascular system. Using oral contraceptives in combination with cigarette smoking increases the risk of stroke.
To prevent a mild ischemic stroke from becoming a major one, physicians treat stroke victims with t-PA, a drug that dissolves the blood clots that are obstructing blood flow to the brain. Ideally, treatment is given as soon as possible, but no later than three hours after the stroke.
Not smoking and getting high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes or high cholesterol under control greatly reduces the risk of having a stroke, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The American Stroke Association adds that exercise and eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day may also reduce the risk of stroke.