What Is A Stroke?


A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is cut off or interrupted. It’s an emergency situation requiring immediate medical attention because damage may occur to the brain that results in the loss of many mental and physical functions.

Every second is important when you or someone you know is experiencing a stroke. If you or someone around you is experiencing a stroke, call 911 immediately. Even in the midst of a pandemic, that message does not change. Individuals who are experiencing stroke symptoms need to seek medical attention immediately. Learn more. Understanding a stroke, its signs and ways to prevent them, can possibly save a life and improve stroke recovery. Listen to our podcast to learn more about stroke signs and symptoms.

At BayCare, our doctors only need an opening about 3mm wide, 1/6 the size of a standard U.S. penny, to treat most strokes. It is by using advanced technologies like this that we can treat a stroke and help our patients get back to living life as soon as possible.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, killing nearly 130,000 Americans each year—that’s 1 in every 20 deaths. Every year, nearly 800,000 people in the United States have a stroke, and on average, someone has a stroke every 40 seconds.

Getting fast medical treatment lowers the risk of disability or even death. That’s why it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of a stroke and to get help right away.

All of BayCare Stroke Centers are certified by DNV,  an international accrediting body that emphasizes clinical best practices along with a disciplined management system. The certifications earned by BayCare’s 13 stroke centers signify clinical excellence demonstrated by the stroke teams and clinicians throughout BayCare Health System.

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Find support groups for stroke survivors, family members and caregivers.

Stroke Symptoms

Immediate medical attention is needed when you suspect a stroke is occurring. B.E.F.A.S.T. and call 911 if you observe any of these symptoms in yourself or someone else: 

  • Sudden numbness of the face, arm or leg, usually on one side of the body
  • Sudden vision problems
  • Sudden difficulty in walking
  • Sudden dizziness and/or loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause
  • Treatment

    Stroke is a leading cause of serious long-term disability, and reduces mobility in more than half of stroke survivors age 65 and over.

    With immediate treatment, a stroke victim has a good chance of making a full recovery. BayCare offers innovative stroke treatment with the state-of-the art technology, procedures and rehabilitative therapies to help improve a patient’s chances of a full recovery. Treatment options vary depending on the type of stroke.

    TIAs (transient ischemic attacks), or mini-strokes, produce similar symptoms of a stroke but last less than 24 hours, sometimes for just a few minutes. They are often warning signs that a stroke will occur, so it’s extremely important to seek medical attention to prevent the onset of a stroke.

    Ischemic strokes occur when blood flow to the brain is reduced, usually from blocked or narrowed arteries. This narrowing or blockage is often the result of a buildup of plaque and other fatty deposits. Approximately 85 percent of strokes are ischemic.

    Hemorrhagic strokes occur when a blood vessel bursts in the brain. There are many conditions that can cause a hemorrhagic stroke including uncontrolled blood pressure and weak spots in blood vessel walls (aneurysms).

    Risk Factors for Stroke

    There are a variety of risk factors associated with stroke, some that can be treated, changed, or controlled, including:

    Blood pressure icon

    High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

    The #1 leading cause of stroke, high blood pressure increases a person’s risk for a stroke four to six times.

    Cigarette icon. Tobacco Use

    Smoking causes narrowing of the arteries and increases a person’s risk of a stroke two to four times.

    High cholesterol icon.

    High Cholesterol

    High cholesterol levels can contribute to atherosclerosis caused by plaque buildup in the arteries. This plaque buildup decreases the amount of blood flow to the brain, which can lead to a stroke.   

    Though some risk factors cannot be treated or changed, it’s just as important to know them to help you and your doctor know your risk for stroke:

    • Age: The likelihood of having a stroke doubles for each decade of life after age 55.
    • Gender: Stroke occurs more often and kills more women than men.
    • Race: African-Americans are twice as likely to have a first-ever stroke than Caucasians.


    Many strokes can be prevented by making smart, healthy lifestyle choices. Talk with your doctor to determine what changes you can make that will reduce your risk of stroke and other medical conditions. Here are a few that can reduce the risk of stroke:

    • Healthy diet: A diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in salt, cholesterol and fat may help lower your risk of a stroke by reducing plaque buildup in the arteries.
    • Regular exercise: Exercising can help control your weight and lower your blood pressure, both risk factors for stroke. Try to exercise for 30 minutes a day.
    • Manage weight: Both diabetes and high blood pressure, two key risk factors for stroke, can be improved by maintaining a healthy weight.
    • Control cholesterol: Use diet, exercise and, if needed, medications to manage cholesterol levels.
    • Don’t smoke: Smoking can greatly increase your risk of a stroke or TIA. If you’re a smoker, ask your doctor for help quitting.
    • Limit alcohol: If you drink alcohol, limit your consumption to one drink a day for women or two drinks a day for men.

    Learn More About Stroke Treatment and Prevention at BayCare

    BayCare offers care to individuals in Tampa, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Plant City, Safety Harbor, Dunedin, Largo, Riverview, Winter Haven, New Port Richey and elsewhere in Tampa Bay, offering a variety of services for stroke diagnosis, stroke treatment and stroke prevention. To learn more about services available at our hospitals call (888) 906-8935.