Skip Global navigation and goto content

It's a New Day in Public Health.

The Florida Department of Health works to protect, promote & improve the health of all people in Florida through integrated state, county & community efforts.

Skip MegaMenu and goto content

Understanding Stroke

Contact the Bureau of Chronic Disease Prevention

Stroke is a disease that affects the arteries leading to and within the brain.  A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot, or bursts (or ruptures).  When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood (and oxygen) it needs, and brain cells die.

About 40 percent of stroke deaths occur in males, and 60 percent in females. African Americans' risk of having a first stroke is nearly twice that of whites. The country's highest death rates due to stroke are in the southeastern United States. Stroke Risk Factors
What to do if you think someone is having a stroke

Stroke Risk Factors

 Anyone can have a stroke, but certain behaviors and medical conditions can increase your chances.  The major risk factors for stroke are:

  • High Blood Pressure
  • Excessive Alcohol Use
  • Physical Inactivity
  • Diabetes
  • High Cholesterol
  • Heart Disease
  • Tobacco Use and Smoking
  • Abnormal Heart Rhythm

Fortunately, anyone can take steps to lower their risk:

  • Know your personal risk factors, including diagnosed high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol.
  • Be physically active and exercise regularly.
  • Maintain a healthy diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Limit alcohol consumption.
  • Avoid cigarette smoke. People who smoke should seek help to stop now.
  • Learn to recognize the warning signs of a stroke and call 9-1-1 right away if someone is suspected of having a stroke.

Back to Top


F.A.S.T. is an easy way to remember the sudden signs of a stroke. When you can spot the signs, you will know quickly that you need to call 9-1-1 for help.  It is important to get treatment quickly.

F.A.S.T. is:

  • Face Drooping- Does one side of the face droop or is it numb?  Ask the person to smile.
  • Arm Weakness - Is one arm weak or numb?  Ask the person to raise both arms.  Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech Difficulty - Is speech slurred, are they unable to speak, or are they hard to understand?  Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like "the sky is blue"  Is the sentence repeated correctly?
  • Time to call 911 - If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get them to the hospital immediately.

Back to Top

What to do if you think someone is having a stroke

Immediately call 9-1-1 or the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) number so an ambulance can be sent.  Also, check the time so you will know when the first symptoms appeared.  A clot-busting drug called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) may improve the chances of getting better but only if you get help right away.

A TIA or transient ischemic attack is a "warning stroke" or "mini-stroke" that produces stroke-like symptoms. TIA symptoms usually only last a few minutes but, if left untreated, people who have TIAs have a high risk of stroke.  Recognizing and treating TIAs can reduce the risk of a major stroke.

Beyond F.A.S.T. — Other Symptoms you should know:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the leg
  • Sudden confusion or trouble understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention addresses stroke prevention through state-based programs to prevent heart disease and stroke, through the Paul Coverdell National Acute Stroke Registry, and through many other partnerships.  Information about stroke and stroke prevention is available at and

Back to Top