Skip to Main Content


  • Protect Your Brain From the Devastating Effects of Stroke

Published on April 01, 2010

Protect Your Brain From the Devastating Effects of Stroke

SIOUX FALLS (April 1, 2010) - Striking the "control center" for every function of the body, stroke is like a power outage that may leave permanent damage or even cause death.

Stroke happens when a blood vessel is blocked or breaks, interrupting blood flow to the brain, said Dr. William Rossing, medical director of the Avera McKennan Stroke Center. That portion of the brain is deprived of oxygen, causing death or damage of those nerve cells.

Stroke is the leading cause of adult disability and the third leading cause of death in the United States. Every year, about 795,000 Americans suffer stroke, and 144,000 die, according to the National Stroke Association. For stroke survivors, damage can range from minimal to devastating and life-changing. "The majority of stroke survivors do improve. That makes aggressive treatment and post-stroke rehab very important," Dr. Rossing said.

Risk factors include family history, age of 55 or older, uncontrolled high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and other vascular issues, such as an abnormal heart rhythm. Smoking increases risk of stroke by two fold, Dr. Rossing said.

While stroke is most common in people over age 55, it can happen at younger ages too. Causes in younger people might include congenital heart abnormalities or vascular trauma brought on by injuries or even sports.

If signs or symptoms of stroke occur, it's important to get help as quickly as possible. "We can intervene with clot-dissolving medications, but we only have a three-hour window in which treatment is most effective," Dr. Rossing said.

About 15 percent of strokes are preceded by a TIA (a transient ischemic attack), marked by stroke symptoms which come and go. "A TIA is a warning sign for a future stroke, yet it's unpredictable - it could happen within 48 hours, or in two years," Dr. Rossing said. So even if stroke symptoms disappear, don't wait; seek medical help.

The Avera McKennan Stroke Center has a dedicated stroke team with an evidence-based protocol for treating stroke patients. People who arrive with stroke symptoms are examined and sent for a CT scan as quickly as possible to diagnose stroke, so that brain-saving treatment can begin. Avera McKennan's Stroke Center is certified by the Joint Commission, and nationally recognized for excellent care.

Two million brain cells die every minute during stroke. Getting help as soon as possible can lessen the debilitating or even fatal effects of stroke. Yet like many other medical conditions, the best medicine is prevention. In fact, up to 80 percent of strokes are preventable.

"If you're a smoker, quit," Dr. Rossing said. "Control your high blood pressure and diabetes, and manage high cholesterol. It's also helpful to eat healthy, maintain a healthy weight and exercise."

Do you know the signs and symptoms of stroke?

  • Sudden numbness or weakness
  • Sudden confusion or misunderstanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no cause

If you, or someone you love experiences one or more of these symptoms, call 911. Treatment is most effective within a three-hour window of the onset of symptoms.

To take a free online stroke risk assessment, click on the link at