Stroke Overview: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Mike Olmos by Mike Olmos | Licensed since 2010
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This article was updated on: 09/15/2018

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According to a report that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released in 2015, about 795,000 people in the United States have strokes each year. Stroke kills about 130,000 people each year in the U.S.; that’s one person every four minutes, reports the CDC. One out of every four strokes occurs in people who have had a previous stroke.

What causes strokes?

According to the American Stroke Association (ASA), there are three main types of strokes. An ischemic stroke occurs when a blood vessel supplying blood and oxygen to the brain is blocked by a blood clot. Ischemic strokes account for over 80% of all stroke cases. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a weakened blood vessel ruptures, causing hemorrhage in the brain. A transient ischemic attack (TIA), or “mini-stroke,” is caused by a temporary clot.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lists the following risk factors for stroke:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Heart disorders such as coronary artery disease and atrial fibrillation
  • Diabetes
  • Personal or family history of stroke
  • Lifestyle factors including smoking, alcohol abuse, obesity, high-fat diet, and physical inactivity
  • Being over age 65
  • Belonging to certain racial ethnicities including African American, Hispanic, and American Indian

How do I recognize symptoms of a stroke?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) “Know Stroke” campaign lists the following stroke symptoms:

  • Sudden numbness and/or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body.
  • Sudden onset of confusion; trouble speaking or understanding speech.
  • Sudden visual problems in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden severe headache, especially in someone with no history of severe headaches.
  • Sudden dizziness, loss of balance, or trouble walking.

The American Stroke Association uses the word “FAST” to help you recognize stroke symptoms: Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, Time to call 911.

Stroke is a medical emergency and if you see someone showing symptoms of a stroke, you should call 911 immediately, says the American Stroke Association. Certain stroke treatment, including medication to dissolve a clot, must be administered in a hospital within three hours, according to the NIH, so get medical assistance right away.

What can I do for stroke prevention?

Some factors, such as age and heredity, can’t be changed, but you can take steps for stroke prevention according to the American Stroke Association (ASA):

  • If you have diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, follow your doctor’s orders carefully to manage your condition and take all your medication as prescribed.
  • Get screened for heart disease, coronary artery disease, and carotid artery disease, and follow your doctor’s treatment recommendations.
  • Eat a healthy diet low in salt, fat, and cholesterol, and high in fruits and vegetables; get advice from your doctor or a nutritionist if you need help managing your diet.
  • Maintain a healthy weight and aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day. Be sure to ask your doctor before starting a new exercise program.
  • If you smoke, quit today, and if you drink, quit or reduce your alcohol consumption. For men, this means no more than two drinks per day and for women (who aren’t pregnant) one drink per day.

Does Medicare cover stroke prevention and stroke treatment?

If you have Medicare Part B, you may be covered for certain health screening tests to identify your risk for stroke, including cardiovascular disease screening, blood tests for cholesterol and lipids, diabetes screening tests, screening and/or counseling for obesity, and smoking cessation treatment sessions if you smoke. These may be given at no cost to you if your provider accepts Medicare assignment and you meet certain eligibility requirements.

If you have prescription drug coverage under Medicare Part D, your plan might cover medications your doctor orders to reduce your risk for stroke. Check your plan’s formulary, or list of approved medications; keep in mind, plans may change their formularies from time to time, but they will notify you in writing.

Medicare also may cover medically necessary inpatient and outpatient treatment, tests, doctor visits, and therapy required to treat you during and after a stroke event. You may be responsible for copayments, coinsurance, and/or deductibles when you use your Medicare benefits.

If you have questions about stroke treatment and prevention under Medicare, I’m happy to help you find answers. To receive an email with information prepared just for you, or to schedule a phone call, please click one of the links below. You can view plans in your area by clicking the “Compare Plans” button.

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