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What is a Stroke?

Stroke happens when the blood flow to an area of the brain is interrupted by either a blood clot or a broken blood vessel. If blood flow to an area of the brain stops for more than a few seconds, brain cells cannot get the oxygen and nutrients they need to stay alive and they die. Stroke is a medical emergency that kills many brain cells per minute and causes permanent brain damage.

Stroke affects the brain and can also affect the body, by killing brain cells that control certain body functions. When brain cells die, the parts of the body controlled by that area of the brain are also affected. Stroke damage can affect all or any part of your brain and your body. This is how stroke can cause problems with speaking, seeing, walking, balance, thinking, memory or other problems.

Stroke can happen at any age, but happens more often in older adults than in younger adults or children. The average age of stroke is decreasing. Pediatric strokes are rare, but their incidence is increasing as the general population’s risk factors for stroke continue to increase.


There are three basic types of stroke:

  • Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) or “mini stroke”: This is when blood flow through an artery to the brain is blocked or reduced for a brief time. This type of stroke can be a warning sign and may occur before a more devastating stroke.


  • Ischemic Stroke: This is when a blood vessel to the brain is blocked by a blood clot and causes death of an area of brain tissue. This type accounts for 80 percent of all strokes.


  • Hemorrhagic Stroke: This is when a blood vessel to the brain bursts or leaks.


Last Reviewed 11/03/2014