Understanding Stroke

The information in this section will help you better understand strokes. You will learn about:

  • types of stroke
  • causes of stroke
  • effects of stroke
  • stroke risks
  • warning signs
  • rehabilitation (rehab) and recovery
  • how members of your care circle can help

By learning about strokes, you and members of your care circle (your family, friends and others close to you) can work toward a better recovery. This information may also help prevent a future stroke.

The information in this section of the website is meant as a guide. It does not replace medical or professional advice.

The way your body responds to a stroke is unique. If you have any questions about your rehab, recovery or general health, talk with your doctor or health care provider, such as your registered nurse, pharmacist or physical therapist.

Because the stroke has put you in a new situation, reading all of this information at once can be overwhelming. Look at the sections that apply to where you are right now in your recovery.

In general, when it comes to identifying if you or someone you know is having a stroke remember the acronym BE FAST:


B Balance – Sudden difficulty with balance

E Eyes – Sudden problem with vision in one or both eyes

F Face – Face or smile droops on one side

A Arms – Sudden weakness in arm or leg

S Speech – Unable to repeat a simple sentence, or slurred words

T Time – If you observe any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately

Risks you can control

Check all that apply:

high blood pressure

tobacco use

 atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat)

heart disease

high cholesterol

alcohol use

extra weight

physical inactivity

carotid artery disease

peripheral artery disease (PAD)



street drugs

Learn about stroke risk factors you can and cannot control.

Risks you cannot control

Check all that apply:




family history (genetics)

stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA)


Face - Smile. Does one side droop?

Arms - Is one side weak or numb?

Speech - Is your speech slurred? Are you unable to repeat a sentence?

Time - Call 911 if you have any symptoms.

When should I call 911?

What is a stroke?

A stroke results when blood and oxygen flow to the brain is stopped or interrupted. This happens because of a ruptured or blocked blood vessel. If you have any stroke warning signs, call 911 right away.

Transient ischemic attacks - TIAs or "mini-strokes" - are caused by a temporary loss of blood flow to a part of the brain. TIAs cause the same symptoms as a stroke. Symptoms usually go away within minutes or a few hours.

Like a stroke, TIAs require medical attention right away. In some cases, TIAs occur before a stroke.

How is stroke treated?

Treatment depends on the type of stroke and how severe it was. The health care team will decide which tests and procedures to do during your or your loved one's hospital stay.

How do you recover from stroke?

A stroke can cause long-lasting changes that can affect everyday activities. Recovery often includes rehabilitation and medicines.

Your health care team will make recommendations right for you or your loved one. Resources and support groups are available for caregivers.

Source: Allina Health Patient EducationUnderstanding Stroke, fifth edition, neuro-ahc-90662
Reviewed By: Allina Health Patient Education experts
First Published: 02/01/2006
Last Reviewed: 05/01/2018

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