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A stroke occurs when blood flow to a part of the brain stops. If blood flow is cut off for longer than a few seconds, the brain cannot get nutrients and oxygen. Brain cells can die, causing lasting damage.

Stroke is a leading cause of death in the United States. It is also a major cause of adult disability. In the United States, about 800,000 people have a stroke annually. A stroke is a medical emergency, so quick treatment is needed. Most of the time, symptoms develop suddenly and without warning. The symptoms of stroke depend on which part of the brain is damaged. In some cases, a person may not know that a stroke has occurred.

Call 911 or your local emergency number and seek urgent medical care at the first signs of a stroke. A headache may occur if the stroke is caused by bleeding in the brain. The headache may start suddenly and may be severe. It may get worse when you are lying flat, or wake you up from sleep. It may get worse when you change positions or when you bend, strain, or cough.

Other symptoms depend on how severe the stroke is and what part of the brain is affected. Symptoms may include:

  • Change in alertness (including sleepiness, unconsciousness, and coma)
  • Changes in hearing, taste, or touch or the ability to feel pain, pressure, or different temperatures
  • Clumsiness, loss of balance or coordination, dizziness or trouble walking
  • Confusion, trouble speaking or understanding others who are speaking
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty writing or reading
  • Eyesight problems, such as decreased vision, double vision, or total loss of vision
  • Lack of control over the bladder or bowels
  • Muscle weakness in the face, arm, or leg (usually just on one side) or numbness or tingling on one side of the body
  • Personality, mood, or emotional changes

Learn about your risk of having a stroke and what you can do to prevent it from A.D.A.M.'s evidence-based consumer health content. If you have more questions Ask A Doctor.

If you would like to know more about this Health Tip, Ask A Doctor

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