What is a Stroke?

What is a stroke? A stroke is triggered by inadequate blood flow to the brain that causes the brain cells in a specific area to suddenly die. Blood flow provides nutrients and oxygen to brain cells and removes waste products. When this blood flow is interrupted, a stroke will result. Stroke can take away part of a person’s mind and change what defines them as an individual. This includes the ability to earn an income and live life in the same way as before the stroke. Other words you may hear for stroke include brain attack, transient ischemic attack (TIA), and cerebrovascular accident (CVA).


Effects of Stroke

Stroke affects more than the person who experiences it. It has a major impact on the person’s family, friends, neighbors, and caregivers. It also affects the broader healthcare system and society in general. Stroke strains resources at all levels, sometimes to the breaking point. Care providers need to know about stroke, and be able to successfully apply that knowledge, in order to provide the patient with excellent care and positively impact the patient’s quality of life.


Incidence of Stroke

Annually, more than 795,000 people experience a stroke. In the United States, a stroke happens nearly every 40 seconds, while every 4 minutes a stroke fatality takes place. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the US and costs the healthcare and employment industries approximately $34 billion annually. When diagnosed in combination with cardiovascular disease, the expense increases to $312.6 billion.

In the United States, a leading cause of serious, long-term disability is stroke. However, it is the leading cause of preventable disability. About half of people who have had a stroke under age 65 are not able to return to work at all. More women than men suffer and die from strokes each year. Even though younger men have a higher general risk for stroke, women have a higher lifetime risk.

Stroke is seen in all ethnicities; however, the risk of a first stroke is higher in African Americans, Alaska Natives, American Indians, Hispanics, and Asian Americans than in whites. A stroke can happen at any age; even though they are more prevalent as the population ages, over one-third of all stroke hospitalizations this decade occurred in people who were younger than 65. Stroke is variable by geographic location, with more fatalities from stroke occurring in the southeastern United States.


Stroke Care

Experiencing a stroke can be devastating. It can leave a person with a permanent, life-changing condition. Some risk factors for stroke are uncontrollable, but certain practices can help prevent, limit, and even reverse stroke damage. Providers of senior healthcare have the responsibility to know the signs and symptoms of stroke and to be able to perform quick stroke assessments and respond appropriately. Perhaps the most important stroke-related work is to help the individual live as independently and as normally as possible. What a privilege that is!


Quickly Identify a Victim of Stroke

FAST is an acronym used as a mnemonic to help detect and enhance responsiveness to stroke victim needs. The acronym stands for Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulties and Time.

  • Facial drooping: A section of the face, usually only on one side, that is drooping and hard to move (i.e. a crooked smile).
  • Arm weakness: The inability to raise one’s arm fully.
  • Speech difficulties: An inability or difficulty to understand or produce speech.
  • Time: If any of the symptoms above are showing, time is of the essence; call the emergency services or go to the hospital.


** Stroke: Maximizing Outcomes and Minimizing Deficits (1132AD)

Jennifer Burks

Content Developer

Jennifer W. Burks, RN, MSN, has over 25 years of clinical and teaching experience, and her areas of expertise are critical care and home health. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from The University of Virginia in 1993 and her Master of Science in Nursing from The University of North Carolina, Greensboro, in 1996. Her professional practice in education is guided by a philosophy borrowed from Florence Nightingale’s Notes on Nursing, “I do not pretend to teach her how, I ask her to teach herself, and for this purpose, I venture to give her some hints.”

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