Stroke Symptoms and Risk Factors As Van Hollen Suffers One Giving Speech

Two high-profile politicians have suffered what they describe as minor strokes over the past week, putting a fresh spotlight on the life-threatening condition that can often strike without warning.

U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), was hospitalized on Sunday after experiencing "lightheadedness and acute neck pain," he said in a statement. He had been delivering a speech in Western Maryland and was taken to the George Washington University hospital for treatment.

The 63-year-old said his doctors had told him that he had suffered no long-term effects or damage as a result of the stroke, and that he planned to return to work later this week.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-MD
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) was hospitalized Sunday following a stroke. Getty Images

Van Hollen's announcement follows news that a fellow Democrat, Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, 52, suffered a stroke on May 13. This was just days before the Pennsylvania Democratic Primary, in which he is the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for the Senate Race.

A third Democrat, New Mexico Senator Ben Lujan, 49, returned to work in March after suffering a stroke in January as he visited a local high school.

What is a stroke?

Strokes occur when there is a blockage of the blood supply to part of the brain, also known as ischemic stroke, or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, which is known as a hemorrhagic stroke, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Ischemic strokes are the most common type of stroke, and are caused when blood clots or built-up fatty deposits block blood vessels to the brain. Strokes can cause long-term brain damage and lasting disability, as well as being one of the leading causes of death in the U.S.

Stroke symptoms and warning signs

There are a number of warning signs for stroke, including sudden numbness or weakness in the face or limbs, especially on one side of the body, sudden confusion or trouble speaking, sudden problems with vision, walking or balance, or a severe headache that comes on suddenly and does not have an obvious cause.

The quicker strokes are identified and treated, the easier it is for clinicians to limit the damage. Public health messaging to improve knowledge about likely symptoms advises that people remember the phrase F.A.S.T.: Face, Arms, Speech, Time to call 911.

Gender, race and location can increase the risk of stroke. Around 55,000 more women than men experience strokes annually, according to the American Stroke Association, and African Americans have the highest rate of deaths from stroke.

In the U.S. the highest stroke rates for adults over the age of 35 were concentrated in the Southeast of the country, particularly Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina and Arkansas, according to CDC data.

There are a number of risk factors for stroke, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, heart disease, and diabetes. Smoking and heavy alcohol consumption can also increase the risk of stroke.

Making lifestyle changes, including choosing healthy food and drinks, limiting salt intake, maintaining a healthy weight and engaging in physical activity can help reduce the risk. Up to 80 percent of strokes are preventable, according to the American Heart Association.