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Articles » NINDS Stroke Information Page: NINDS

NINDS Stroke Information Page: NINDS

Article title: NINDS Stroke Information Page: NINDS

Main condition: Stroke

Conditions: Stroke

What is Stroke?
A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the part of the brain is suddenly interrupted (ischemic) or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, spilling blood into the spaces surrounding the brain cells (hemorrhagic). The symptoms of stroke are easy to spot: sudden numbness or weakness, especially on one side of the body; sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding speech; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; sudden trouble walking; dizziness; or loss of balance or coordination. Brain cells die when they no longer receive oxygen and nutrients from the blood or when they are damaged by sudden bleeding into or around the brain. These damaged cells can linger in a compromised state for several hours. With timely treatment, these cells can be saved. Stroke is diagnosed through several techniques: a short neurological examination, blood tests, CT scans, MRI scans, Doppler ultrasound, and arteriography. Stroke seems to run in some families. Family members may have a genetic tendency for stroke or share a lifestyle that contributes to stroke. The most important risk factors for stroke are hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and cigarette smoking. Other risks include heavy alcohol consumption, high blood cholesterol levels, illicit drug use, and genetic or congenital conditions. Some risk factors for stroke apply only to women. Primary among these are pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause.

Is there any treatment?
Generally, there are three treatment stages for stroke: prevention, therapy immediately after stroke, and post-stroke rehabilitation. Therapies to prevent stroke are based on treating an individual's underlying risk factors. Acute stroke therapies try to stop a stroke while it is happening. Post-stroke rehabilitation is to overcome disabilities that result from stroke damage. Medication or drug therapy is the most common treatment for stroke. Surgery can be used to prevent stroke, to treat acute stroke, or to repair vascular damage or malformations in and around the brain. For most stroke patients, physical therapy is the cornerstone of the rehabilitation process. Another type of therapy involving relearning daily activities is occupational therapy (OT). OT also involves exercise and training to help the stroke patient relearn everyday activities such as eating, drinking and swallowing, dressing, bathing, cooking, reading and writing, and toileting. Speech therapy is appropriate for patients who have no deficits in cognition or thinking, but have problems understanding speech or written words, or problems forming speech.

What is the prognosis?
Although stroke is a disease of the brain, it can affect the entire body. Some of the disabilities that can result from stroke include paralysis, cognitive deficits, speech problems, emotional difficulties, daily living problems, and pain.

What research is being done?
Some brain damage that results from stroke may be secondary to the initial death of brain cells caused by the lack of blood flow to the brain tissue. This brain damage is a result of a toxic reaction to the primary damage. Researchers are studying the mechanisms of this toxic reaction and ways to prevent this secondary injury to the brain. Scientists hope to develop neuroprotective agents to prevent this damage. Another area of research involves experiments with vasodilators, medication that expand or dilate blood vessels and thus increase the blood flow to the brain. Basic research has also focused on the genetics of stroke and stroke risk factors. One area of research involving genetics is gene therapy. One promising area of stroke animal research involves hibernation. The dramatic decrease of blood flow to the brain in hibernating animals is extensive enough t that it would kill a non-hibernating animal. If scientists can discover how animals hibernate without experiences brain damage, then maybe they can discover ways to stop the brain damage associated with decreased blood flow in stroke patients. Other studies are looking at the role of hypothermia, or decreased body temperature, on metabolism and neuroprotection. Scientists are working to develop new and better ways to help the brain repair itself and restore important functions to the stroke patients. Some evidence suggests that transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), in which a small magnetic current is delivered to an area of the brain, may possibly increase brain plasticity and speed up recover of function after stroke.


American Heart Association
7272 Greenville Avenue
Dallas, TX 75231-4596
Tel: 800-AHA-USA1 (242-8721)
Fax: 214-369-3685

Brain Aneurysm Foundation
295 Cambridge Street
Old Forge Realty Bldg.
Boston, MA 02114
Tel: 617-723-3870
Fax: 617-723-8672

National Stroke Association
9707 East Easter Lane
Englewood, CO 80112-3747
Tel: 303-649-9299 800-STROKES (787-6537)
Fax: 303-649-1328

Stroke Clubs International
805 12th Street
Galveston, TX 77550
Tel: 409-762-1022

National Aphasia Association
29 John Street
Suite 1103
New York, NY 10038
Tel: 212-267-2814 800-922-4NAA (4622)
Fax: 212-267-2812

Children's Hemiplegia and Stroke Assocn. (CHASA)
4101 West Green Oaks Blvd.
PMB #149
Arlington, TX 76016
Tel: 817-492-4325

Related NINDS Publications and Information

  • Stroke: Hope Through Research
    An informational booklet about stroke compiled by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
  • Stroke Risk Factors and Symptoms
    A short document describing stroke risk factors and symptoms.
  • Know Stroke. Know the Signs. Act in Time.
    Stroke publication education booklet
  • Post-Stroke Rehabilitation Fact Sheet
    Post-stroke rehabilitation fact sheet from NINDS, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
  • Stroke Rehabilitation Information Page
    A fact sheet on stroke rehabilitation.
  • Brain Basics: Preventing Stroke
    Information on preventing stroke, including stroke risk factors and warning signs, compiled by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
  • Previniendo la Apoplejía (Preventing Stroke)
    Información del Previniendo la Apoplejia (Preventing Stroke) compiled by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
  • Questions and Answers About Stroke
    A backgrounder with questions and answers about stroke.
  • Accidente Cerebrovascular: Esperanza en la Investigación
    Informacion de Accidente Cerebrovascular/Spanish-language booklet on stroke prepared by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
  • Proceedings of a National Symposium on Rapid Identification and Treatment of Acute Stroke
    Proceedings of a National Symposium on Rapid Identification and Treatment of Acute Stroke held December 12-13, 1996, to coordinate nationwide efforts aimed at implementing acute stroke therapy for all types of stroke.
  • Workshop on Perinatal and Childhood Stroke
    Report of the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Workshop on Perinatal and Childhood Stroke, held September 18 - 19, 2000.
  • Transient Ischemic Attack
    Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) information sheet compiled by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
  • Multi-Infarct Dementia
    Multi-infarct dementia information sheet compiled by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
  • Stroke Scales and Related Information
    Referral page to the Brain Attack Coalition "Acute Stroke Toolbox" site for the NIH Stroke Scale, stroke admission orders, and other items for clinicians treating acute stroke.
  • Children with Porencephaly, Stroke, and Cerebral Palsy Sought for Study
    Lay-language descriptions of new program announcements and clinical trials seeking patient volunteers.

    This fact sheet is in the public domain. You may copy it.Provided by:
    The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
    National Institutes of Health
    Bethesda, MD 20892


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