Fast action is key when suffering a stroke

Physician pointing to multiple brain MRI scans

Every 40 seconds a person in the United States suffers a stroke, making it the fifth leading cause of death. However, these life-threatening, medical emergencies are preventable and can be treated. As it nears the end of Stroke Awareness Month, it’s important to be aware of stroke risk factors and symptoms to stay healthy and minimize risks.

A stroke occurs when blood supply to the brain is interrupted or reduced. While there are three main types of stroke that can occur, more than 80 percent of them are categorized as ischemic stroke – those caused by blocked or narrowed arteries that severely reduce blood flow. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when blood vessels in the brain leak or rupture. And a transient ischemic attack, or a ministroke, is due to a temporary decrease in blood to the brain. While stroke often lead to serious long-term disability, a transient ischemic attack typically does not create permanent damage.

There are a number of lifestyle and medical factors that can cause a stroke. The leading causes include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes

Americans are at high risk for stroke, with 1 in 3 adults have at least one of the leading causes. Other factors include:

  • Heart disease such as atrial fibrillation
  • Sex hormones
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Advancing age
  • Minority race-ethnicity

“In Chicago we know that stroke hits hardest in the African American and Hispanic communities. An important way to prevent stroke is to improve blood pressure control, exercise and eating habits in high-risk groups,” said Shyam Prabhakaran, MD, chair of the Department of Neurology at the University of Chicago Medicine and an internationally recognized stroke neurologist.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk of having a first stroke is nearly twice as high for blacks as it is for whites. And while death rates from stroke have declined among all races, African Americans continue to have the highest rate of death due to stroke. Meanwhile, Hispanics have seen an increase in death rates due to stroke since 2013.

“It’s important to bridge the gap with targeted community intervention and improved access to proven treatments,” Prabhakaran said.

When seeking treatment, the faster one can receive medical treatment, the better the outcome. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the following symptoms:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, legs or arms (usually one-sided)
  • Confusion or trouble speaking or understanding others
  • Severe (worst) headache of your life

“The signs and symptoms of a stroke can vary from person to person,” Prabhakaran said. “The symptoms can also evolve from one symptom to another in the same patient.”

When feeling or witnessing the signs of a stroke, it is important to act fast and call 911 even if the symptoms are temporary.

UChicago Medicine’s Joint Commission-certified Comprehensive Stroke Center is one of 10 certified comprehensive stroke centers in Illinois. Our Stroke Center provides comprehensive, individualized care that will help patients recover and achieve the best quality of life possible after suffering a stroke.

“If you call 911 on the South Side of Chicago and you’re having a major stroke, the paramedics know to bring you to the closest Comprehensive Stroke Center,” Prabhakaran said.

The cornerstone of being a Comprehensive Stroke Center is a dedication to evidence-based medicine and advanced treatment options for the most complex patients.

Our experts are involved in a wide range of stroke research projects — from studying new medicines for stroke prevention to developing advanced surgical procedures to improve blood flow to the brain after stroke.

Shyam Prabhakaran, MD

Shyam Prabhakaran, MD

Shyam Prabhakaran, MD, is the Chair of the Department of Neurology at UChicago Medicine. He is an internationally recognized leader in vascular neurology and stroke research and treatment, and has led projects focused on uncovering the underlying causes of recurrent strokes, improving stroke care, and optimizing patient outcomes and recovery.

Learn more about Dr. Prabhakaran

Stroke Center

The University of Chicago Medicine is a Joint Commission Certified Comprehensive Stroke Center, nationally recognized for its expertise in providing the highest level of care for stroke patients.

Read more about our stroke expertise