Each year, about 500,000 Americans suffer a stroke; about 158,000 die, making stroke the third-leading cause of death and the leading cause of disability.
Here are the facts:
* A stroke is a sudden interruption of blood flow to the brain, caused by a clogged or ruptured blood vessel.
* There are two main types: ischemic strokes, caused by a blockage--usually a clot--in an artery to the brain, and the less-common hemorrhagic strokes, resulting from a head injury or an aneurysm (a weak spot that balloons out from the blood vessel wall).
* Risk factors include high blood pressure, heart disease, smoking, diabetes and obesity. Risk of stroke rises with age and is higher in men and African Americans.
* Warning signs include sudden unexplained numbness or tingling, especially on one side; slurred speech; blurred vision; dizziness; confusion; fainting; severe unexplained headache. About 10% of strokes are preceded by brief "mini-strokes" known as transient ischemic attacks, or TIAs. Anyone with such symptoms should seek medical attention right away.
* You can help prevent stroke by controlling high blood pressure, quitting smoking, keeping your weight down and reducing dietary fat and excess sodium.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Heart Assn., National Stroke Assn.