Understanding Stroke

By Rayetta Johnson, RN 

Stroke is a blockage of blood flow in the brain caused by one of two things, a blood clot and/or cholesterol plaque buildup or a hemorrhage/bleeding in the brain. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and the first leading cause of long-term disability in the United States. 

Stroke can happen to anyone at any age, from before birth (in the womb) to the end of life. There are factors that place someone at a high risk for having a stroke, these include: uncontrolled high blood pressure, cholesterol and sugar (diabetes) levels; irregular heart rate (atrial fibrillation); alcohol and/or drug abuse; obesity and physical inactivity. These risks can be identified, treated and controlled, 80% of strokes are preventable! Eat healthy, focus on fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Avoid foods with trans-fat, high sugar and sodium content. Be active, aim for 30 minutes every day, walk, swim or dance. Put the cigarettes down, one year after you stop smoking your risk of stroke is cut in half and five years after you quit, your risk is like you never smoked!

There are other risks that we do not have control over, such as our age, gender or race; a family history of stroke or having had a previous stroke. We cannot do anything about these but to be aware that they can play a role in having a stroke.

Know your Numbers

  • Blood pressure: Below  120/80 mm/Hg
  • Cholesterol:
    • LDL (good cholesterol): below 130; 70-100 (for high risk people)
    • HDL (bad cholesterol): 40 or higher
  • Triglycerides: Under 150
  • Blood sugar:  100 mg/dl  (fasting)


If you have any one of these signs happen suddenly (“out of the blue”), call 911 immediately and get to the nearest emergency room. Do not delay calling 911 by waiting to see if get better. Always best to be safe rather than sorry! 

Every minute counts after a stroke occurs, brain cells start dying (2 million cells die every minute) so time is brain, the sooner you get treated the better outcome you will have. If you do not get to the hospital immediately you may be permanently paralyzed or disabled for the rest of your life, if you do get to the hospital and treated quickly you may return back to your normal baseline and go home back to your previous life in a few days.