June 3, 2011


COLUMBIA, Tenn. — Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States, claiming more than 130,000 lives each year. On average, the American Stroke Association estimates that a stroke occurs every 40 seconds. Maury Regional Medical Center (MRMC) offers information to the public on the warning signs of stroke and tips on reducing the risk for the disease.

Stroke is a disease affecting the arteries leading to and within the brain. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts. When that happens, the affected part of the brain cannot get the blood and oxygen it needs, and it begins to die. The effects of a stroke depend largely on where the problem occurs and how much area is affected.

Warning signs of a stroke usually develop suddenly and include:

  • Numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Confusion or trouble speaking
  • Vision problems in one or both eyes
  • Loss of balance, trouble walking and dizziness
  • A severe headache that begins suddenly

“There is no time to delay when someone is having a possible stroke,” said Holly Kunz, administrative director of emergency services at MRMC. “If you or someone you know suddenly develops a severe headache or trouble with speech, vision or balance, immediately call 911. It is important to note the time that symptoms first began. In some cases, clot-busting medication may be administered to reduce the long-term effects of a stroke.”

The chance of having a stroke increases with age and men are more likely to be affected than women. Stroke is also more common for those with a family history of the disease and for African Americans. Someone with prior history of stroke or heart attack is also at increased risk. Although those risk factors cannot be changed, it is possible to control a number of other causes of stroke.

Hypertension—or high blood pressure—is the leading cause of stroke and the most important controllable risk factor. To help prevent it, blood pressure must be lowered to less than 140/90. Normal blood pressure is at or below 120/80. Other ways to reduce the chance of stroke include stopping smoking, eating a healthy diet, becoming more physically active, and keeping cholesterol levels within a healthy range.

“Stroke can very often be prevented and treated,” said Kunz. “Speak with your physician about your personal risk factors and ways to help reduce the chances of having a stroke,” said Kunz.