How stroke-aware are you?
It’s important to know the warning signs of stroke and to respond quickly. But it’s just as important to know ways you can decrease your own or a loved one’s risk of stroke.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death in the U.S., accounting for almost 140,000 fatalities each year. In fact, someone in the United States has a stroke about every 40 seconds. It’s also the leading cause of serious long-term disability in the U.S.
But stroke is largely preventable. Although family history and age can increase stroke risk, up to 80 percent of strokes can be sidestepped with lifestyle changes. Before we get to those, though, let’s look at what causes a stroke.
Stroke is an abnormality involving the circulation of blood to the brain, causing permanent damage. This damage is the result of either a blood-vessel blockage that cuts off blood flow to the brain or due to bleeding into the brain.
Blockage of blood flow is referred to as an ischemic stroke. This blockage is the result of fatty deposits narrowing the blood vessels to the brain or by a blood clot that forms within the heart or blood vessels that carry blood to the brain. If treated quickly enough, this type of stroke can be completely reversed.
Some of the risk factors for ischemic stroke are increasing age, heart disease, high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, elevated cholesterol, obesity, inactive lifestyle, a family history of heart disease or stroke, and a history of TIA, or “ministrokes.” TIA stands for Transient Ischemic Attack. During a TIA, the signs and symptoms of a stroke appear and then spontaneously disappear. This frequently is a warning sign for a full-blown stroke.
How do you know if someone is having a stroke? The acronym FAST is a good way to remember the most common signs of stroke:
F: Face drooping
A: Arm weakness
S: Speech difficulty
T: Time to call 911.
Other symptoms of stroke include trouble seeing, numbness, confusion, dizziness and severe headaches. If you develop signs of a possible stroke, seek emergency medical assistance IMMEDIATELY. Most strokes are due to blockage of blood flow to the brain and every minute counts when trying to restore blood flow and save brain tissue from permanent damage.
Severe strokes can have a devastating impact. While some strokes are fatal, more often, individuals are left with profound lifelong disability that can severely impair the ability to work, to walk, to speak and to understand language. Stroke can also cause loss of vision, inability to swallow, depression and change in personality or behavior. Prompt treatment within three hours of onset of symptoms can stop a stroke in progress and reverse most of the impairment. Seeking immediate emergency medical care can be the most important life-changing health decisions that many people will ever have to make.
As important as it is to recognize and seek treatment for a stroke, it is even better if stroke can be avoided completely. I mentioned earlier, the majority of strokes can be avoided with lifestyle changes. Below are six things you can do to lower your risk of stroke.
· If you smoke, stop.
· Overweight adults should lose weight.
· In your diet, get plenty of fruit, vegetables, and low-fat dairy. Cut back on meats, sweets and refined grains, such as white bread and rice.
· Limit salt intake.
· Limit alcohol consumption to two drinks daily for men and one drink for women.
For those who have chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes or elevated cholesterol, there are medications that can help to reduce stroke risk as well. Because most strokes occur due to atherosclerosis, interventions that reduce stroke risk have the added benefit of also reducing the risk of heart attack.
Atrial fibrillation is an increasingly common heart condition. This problem involves an abnormal heart rhythm and also can disrupt the normal flow of blood through the chambers of the heart. This promotes the formation of blood clots within the heart which can travel with the blood flow to block blood vessels in the brain and cause a stroke. For this reason, atrial fibrillation significantly increases the risk of stroke. For many patients with atrial fibrillation, the use of anticoagulant medications can greatly reduce the risk of stroke.
The important thing is to be stroke-aware. Know the symptoms and how to respond when you think someone is having a stroke. Also, know the risks, and make the lifestyle changes necessary to reduce them. Remember, it is not enough to just know, you also need to ACT.
Dr. Philip J. Fracica is the chief medical officer at Bothwell Regional Health Center in Sedalia.
The GreenFields Continuing Care Community on Broadway in Lancaster provides residential living at GreenField Manor and assisted living at GreenField Court. GreenField Terrace provides memory care and enhanced assisted living. GreenField Health & Rehabilitation Center provides 24-hour skilled nursing care, dementia care, respite care and myriad rehabilitation services.