Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 1999;59(9):2485

See related article on stroke.

What is a stroke?

When an artery that carries blood to the brain is blocked or breaks, it damages the brain. We call this damage a “stroke.” Strokes can be mild, severe or even fatal. Most people who have strokes are 60 or older, but younger people can also have strokes.

In the past few years, we've learned some ways to prevent stroke. You and your doctor can work together to lower your risk of stroke.

What increases my risk of stroke?

Strokes tend to occur in older people. They happen more often in men than in women. They also happen more often in blacks than in whites. These are risk factors that we can't change.

However, we can treat some risk factors for stroke, such as:

  • High blood pressure (also called hypertension)

  • Diabetes (also called high blood sugar)

  • Tobacco use

  • High cholesterol (high fat levels in the blood)

  • A heart rhythm problem called “atrial fibrillation”

  • A warning stroke called a “transient ischemic attack” (or TIA)

If you have any of these conditions, talk with your doctor about treatments that can lower your risk of stroke.

What is a warning stroke?

It's very important for you to know the symptoms of a warning stroke (TIA). When you have a TIA, one side or one area of your body goes numb or weak for a short time (often five minutes or less). During this time, you may not be able to talk, or your words may come out slurred and wrong. You may not see very well.

Because these symptoms don't last long and usually don't cause pain, some people ignore a TIA. People who have a TIA are 10 times more likely to have a stroke. If you have a TIA, you should see your doctor within a day or two.

If a TIA lasts longer than 15 minutes, you might be having a stroke. You should call “911” and go right to a hospital.

Does aspirin prevent stroke?

Aspirin can lower your risk of stroke. Your doctor may want you to take an aspirin every day if you've had a TIA, a stroke, heart pain or a heart attack.

Aspirin can cause bleeding in your stomach or intestines, however. Talk to your doctor about whether taking aspirin every day to prevent stroke is safe for you.

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