What is a brain attack?

Find out how much you know about strokes

“Brain attack” is a term many physicians are starting to use for strokes. That’s because people often confuse strokes with heart attacks. Both involve blockages: a heart attack occurs when the blood cannot flow to the heart, and a stroke occurs when blood cannot reach the brain.

Without the oxygen the blood carries, brain cells start dying within minutes and disability results. In fact, stroke is the number one cause of disability in America.

Let’s work together to prevent stroke and disability. Learn the signs and symptoms; and if you experience these symptoms, call 911 immediately.

Laura A. Meller, MS, APN, CNS-BC contributed to this article. Ms. Meller is Stroke Coordinator and Clinical Nurse Specialist at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital. 

Which of these conditions increases your risk of having a stroke?

  • Atrial fibrillation (a heart rhythm condition)
  • High blood pressure and heart disease
  • Diabetes 
  • Answer: All of the above


The most important risk factor for stroke that you can change is high blood pressure.

  • False—a family history of strokes is more important, and it cannot be modified
  • Answer: True—high blood pressure is a top risk factor that can be controlled


The signs and symptoms of a stroke are sudden; they include:

  • Confusion, trouble speaking and/or understanding others
  • Paralysis, dizziness, or trouble walking
  • Change in vision and severe headache
  • Answer: All of the above


What exactly is a stroke?

  • When the heart stops beating, and the brain is deprived of oxygen
  • A type of seizure caused by a surge of electrical activity in the brain
  • Answer: Blood clot blocking blood flow to the brain, or a ruptured blood vessel in the brain


Strokes always leave patients permanently disabled.

  • True—any brain cell loss from a stroke will affect brain functions
  • Answer: False— type of stroke and speed of treatment affects whether disability will occur


If you or someone else experience any stroke symptoms, what should you do?

  • Call your primary care physician or contact a cardiologist
  • Take aspirin immediately and lie down
  • Answer: Call 911 for an ambulance


With some strokes, the drug tPA (tissue plasminogen activator) must be administered how many hours in advance to prevent further brain damage:

  • One hour after symptoms begin
  • Within 24 hours after symptoms begin
  • Answer: three hours after symptoms begin


Stroke risk factors relate to how you live (smoking, diet, exercise) as well as who you are.  Which of these is a risk factor?

  • Ethnicity—African Americans are at higher risk
  • Age—the chance of a stroke doubles for each decade after 55
  • Family history—a parent who had a stroke
  • Answer: All of the above


You can prevent a stroke by doing which of the following:

  • Take your blood pressure medication consistently
  • Stop smoking, and limit consumption of alcohol and salty, fatty foods
  • Do some moderate exercise regularly
  • Answer: All of the above


Strokes are rare in women, or in people under age 65.

  • True—strokes primarily affect older men with high blood pressure
  • Answer: False—strokes can happen to anyone; 34% of strokes occur in patients under 65

Learn More about Stroke