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Strokes are the number one cause of disability in the US, so it's critical to know the signs of stroke and what to do immediately following a stroke in order to minimize its damage. Related Videos: What is a Stroke? (Part 1 of 2) | HealthiNation Preventing & Treating Stroke (Part 2 of 2) | HealthiNation TRANSCRIPT: What is a Stroke? Stroke, sometimes called a "brain attack," is the number one cause of disability in the United States. It occurs when the normal flow of blood to the brain is interrupted, having the potential to cause serious, long-lasting damage to the brain. What Happens When a Stroke Occurs? A stroke, or blockage of normal blood flow to the brain, occurs in one of two different ways: Ischemic Stroke. In an ischemic stroke, blood clots or plaques build up in the blood vessels carrying blood to the brain. When your brain doesn't get enough blood, your brain cells begin to die rapidly. Ischemic strokes are the most common form of stroke and are the focus of this video. Hemorrhagic Stroke. This is also called a cerebral hemorrhage. It occurs when a blood vessel ruptures and blood spills into the brain tissue, killing brain cells. It is usually caused by high blood pressure or an aneurism. An aneurism is a weakened area of the blood vessel that balloons out and can rupture. Hemorrhagic stroke is less common than ischemic stroke, but can have devastating effects. Signs and Symptoms of Stroke It's important to understand the signs and symptoms of a stroke so you can take immediate action to prevent damage to the brain: A sudden numbness or weakness in one side of the body, specifically in the face, arm or leg Severe headache with no known cause Dizziness and a loss of balance or coordination Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding words Trouble seeing our of one or both eyes If you or someone you know experiences these symptoms, it may be a stroke or a mini-stroke, which is also known as a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA). While a TIA is not a full stroke, it should be taken seriously. One-third of people who have a mini-stroke will go on to have a stroke. Checking for a Stroke The National Stroke Association recommends immediate action if you think someone is having a stroke. Here are some simple tests for assessing a stroke: Face. Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop? Arms. Ask to person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward? Speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Are the words slurred and is the sentence repeated correctly? Time. If the answer to any of these questions is yes, time is critical. Call 9-1-1 or take the person to the hospital immediately. Risk Factors for Stroke While you can reduce your risk of having a stroke through lifestyle choices, there are certain uncontrollable factors that may put you at higher risk for stroke. These include: Age. You're at higher risk if you are over the age of 55. Gender. Men have a higher risk than women. Ethnicity. African American, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, Asian and South Asians are at higher risk. Family History. You should check to see if any of your close relatives have suffered a stroke; a family history puts you at greater risk. Your Medical History. If you have had a mini-stroke, or TIA, in the past, you are at higher risk for having a full stroke. Sources: Stroke. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department Of Health and Human Services, Office of Women's Health, 2009. (Accessed October 19, 2009 at What is Stroke? Centennial, CO .: National Stroke Association, 2009. (Accessed October 19, 2009 at