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What is a stroke?

A stroke occurs when there is an interruption of the normal blood flow to the brain, due to a blockage or rupture of a blood vessel.

What is a stroke?

A stroke is a sudden interruption in the blood supply of the brain. Without the normal flow of oxygen-rich blood, brain cells start to die. Because stroke occurs rapidly and requires immediate treatment, stroke is also called a brain attack. Stroke can cause disability and death.

However, fast treatment may reduce the long term effects of stroke. Most strokes (about 87%) are caused by a sudden blockage of arteries leading to the brain (ischemic stroke). Other strokes are caused by bleeding into brain tissue when a blood vessel bursts (hemorrhagic stroke). Learn more about how to recognize signs and symptoms.

Risk factors for stroke

Certain behaviors and characteristics can increase your chance of having a stroke. We call these risk factors. There are some risk factors cannot be controlled such as having a family history of stroke, being a certain ethnicity, being female, being age 65 or older, and having had a stroke or heart attack in the past. However, there are also many risk factors that you can control such as controlling your blood pressure, quitting smoking, getting healthy physical activity and maintaining healthy nutrition. Learn more about reducing your risk with daily habits.

Massachusetts stroke statistics

  • 3.5 percent of Massachusetts adults 35 and older have reported that they had a stroke
  • 2.8 percent of Massachusetts adult men 35+ reported being diagnosed with a stroke
  • 4.2 percent of Massachusetts adult women 35+ reported being diagnosed with a stroke

Reference: A Profile of Health among Massachusetts Adults, 2017

National stroke statistics

  • 140,000 Americans each year die of stroke—that’s 1 out of every 20 deaths
  • Stroke is a leading cause of serious long-term disability.
  • Stroke costs the United States an estimated $34 billion each year


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