Spotlight On: Stroke

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Every year about 800,00 people living in the U.S. have a stroke. Stroke is a public health concern that costs the U.S. billions of dollars and remains one of the leading causes of death. 

A stroke is sometimes called a “brain attack” because it interferes with oxygen and glucose (sugar) delivery to the brain. The brain weighs between 3 and 3.5 pounds—approximately 2% of the body’s weight—but it claims up to 25% of the body’s oxygen and glucose supply to function properly. Five minutes without oxygen and glucose can result in irreversible brain damage.


There are three types of strokes:

  • Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a weakened blood vessel ruptures, causing bleeding into the brain.
  • Ischemic stroke comes from atherosclerotic plaques, which are fat deposits in the blood vessels that supply the brain with nutrients. This is the most common type of stroke and accounts for 85% of all strokes.
  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a mild ischemic stroke, sometimes called a mini stroke. Blood clots that obstruct blood flow for a short period can cause a TIA. This is a warning sign that a more serious stroke could occur.


Strokes often happen suddenly and are usually accompanied with symptoms such as numbness to the face; difficulty speaking, seeing or walking; dizziness; loss of coordination; and migraines. Symptoms can differ depending on which part of the brain is affected. As scientists have learned more about stroke, they have established the saying “time is brain.” This means the sooner the person having a stroke is treated, the better the outcome will be.

Scientists have come up with an assessment called the FAST test to help you figure out if someone is having a stroke:

  • The first step is to ask the person to smile and check whether their face droops. (Face)
  • The second step is to ask the person to raise both arms. (Arms)
  • The third step is to ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. (Speech)
  • Finally, if they cannot perform these tasks, call 911 right away! (Time)

Risk factors

High blood pressure is a risk factor for ischemic stroke. Other risk factors include diabetes, coronary heart disease and atrial fibrillation, which is a form of irregular heartbeat. There are also demographic factors that make someone more likely to have a stroke, including being male, African American or 65 years or older.

A heart-healthy lifestyle, including frequent exercise. helps fight the recurrence of stroke. Research conducted by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center found that when people performed aerobic exercises, it reduced stiffness of arteries in the neck and increased blood flow to the brain. This underscores the vital role exercise plays in promoting abundant blood flow to the brain.

Try to reduce your risk of stroke by enjoying your favorite aerobic activities and making healthy diet choices that include raw nuts, fruits and whole grain foods. Also, watch your sodium and sugar intake, and consult with your physician to monitor your health.

Oreofe Daniel is an undergraduate student studying biology at the University of Illinois Springfield. Her long-term career goal is to earn an MD/PhD degree and work as a medical scientist providing quality health care in Nigeria and the U.S. Daniel’s love for science and experience as a Nigerian has fueled her interest in health care and its accessibility to disadvantaged populations.

Natalya Zinkevich, PhD, is an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield. She teaches courses related to human anatomy and physiology, health and disease, and vertebrate zoology. Her research primarily focuses on the cardiovascular system.

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