Stroke is a serious medical emergency that requires awareness and timely treatment to prevent disability or death. Though 80% of strokes are preventable, they remain the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States, killing more people than homicides, suicides, and hypertension combined. Nearly 150,000 Americans die from a stroke annually, and even though healthy lifestyle choices may decrease risk, over half a million Americans suffer a stroke each year.
What is a stroke?
A stroke is a “brain attack”. The brain is the epicenter of all function in your body (i.e. movement, digestion, emotion), and needs an adequate supply of oxygen from the blood to properly function. A stroke occurs when a clot blocks a blood vessel in the brain, disrupting the blood supply. Without enough oxygen the brain cells die, resulting in brain damage, disability, and even death. This type of stroke, an Ischemic Stroke, accounts for over 85% of strokes. Another, less common, type of stroke is called a Hemorrhagic Stroke and occurs when there is a bleed in the brain.
Risk Factors and Prevention
The uncontrollable risk factors for stroke are age, gender, race, genetics. Strokes are more often seen in adults over 65; however, one-fourth of all cases are in people under 65. Nationally, women lead in stroke occurrences, having 55,000 more strokes each year compared to men. African Americans and Hispanics have a higher risk for strokes given the greater occurrence of hypertension, diabetes, and obesity seen in these groups. Family history and heredity are also risk factors for stroke. Genetic disorders such as sickle cell disease or family history of obesity can increase a person risk for stroke, especially when combined with other unhealthy habits.
The controllable risk factors include Stress, high blood pressure, diabetes, elevated cholesterol, obesity, excessive alcohol consumption, and tobacco use. All can be controlled through healthier choices such as healthier food, more exercise, and monitoring blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose.
Signs and Symptoms
Though a stroke is called a “brain attack” acute severe head pain is NOT the most common sign. In fact, the symptoms of a stroke can be less noticeable than stubbing your toe, but if unrecognized or ignored the clinical implications can be are far more life-threatening.
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From rap songs to smartphone apps, the most common, physician approved, way to identify the signs and symptoms of a stroke is with the mnemonic FAST:
drooping (Lose control over one side of your mouth/face? Is your smile crooked?)
weakness (Hard to move your arm? Can you raise both arms? does one drift down?)
difficulty (Slurred speech? Are your words coming out wrong?)
to call 911 (Get to the hospital and keep track of what time the symptoms first appeared)
Oftentimes people do not recognize the signs or just see them as anomalies that will pass with time. “Maybe I lifted too much weight?” “Didn’t get enough sleep” I’ll just wait.” DON’T WAIT! Early action is critical. Waiting can be the difference between recovery or brain damage. Survival or death. It is recommended that a person receives care within 3 hours of the initial symptoms. Care within this 3 hour “golden window” may greatly improve chances of survival and recovery.
Strokes do not discriminate. They can affect young, old, women and men of all ethnic backgrounds. Though some groups are affected more, all people are at risk, especially if you have an unhealthy lifestyle. Don’t ignore the signs of a stroke. Identify the symptoms FAST (FACE, ARM, SPEECH, TIME) and get help even faster. With quick treatment, within the “golden window” of 3 hours, you can improve chances of recovering. Most importantly, focus on preventing a stroke before one occurs by adopting healthy lifestyle habits. Put down the pizza and eat a healthy salad. Get off the couch and move and go see your doctor have regular blood pressure and cholesterol checks. Stay aware and share this knowledge of how to notice a stroke and prevent a stroke with family and friends.