Let me hit you with the bad news first: Stroke kills, stroke destroys, stroke debilitates. Stroke is the third most common cause of death in the United States, and the number-one cause of serious disability. One year after the most common kind of stroke, approximately 30 percent of those afflicted will have died, and another 30 percent will have a moderate to severe disability.
Now for some good news: Of those who experience the most common type of stroke, approximately 40 percent are left with only a mild or no disability one year later. And each year more people survive and recover from stroke as medical research continues to advance effective treatment. Today, recovery with improvement is the rule rather than the exception.
Stroke is sometimes called a brain attack. I wish this label would catch on, because I think that people might then understand that stroke is an emergency — like a heart attack — and call 911 right away! A heart attack threatens your heart; a stroke threatens your brain. In truth, most stroke is like a heart attack: It’s a problem with blood vessels, and time is really important.
However, heart attack is a little easier to recognize. First of all, the pain tells you something is wrong — and it is usually near your heart. Most strokes are painless, and the symptoms, a paralyzed arm or leg for instance, are not obviously related to the brain.
Clearly, the more you know about stroke — its symptoms, causes, risks, treatment, and prevention — the better your chances of living a full and productive life with or, better yet, without stroke. And the first lesson is to learn what stroke is and how and why stroke occurs.