According to the American Stroke Association, a stroke, also known as a cerebrovascular accident, is a disease that affects the arteries leading to and within the brain. It occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts, preventing blood (and oxygen) flow.
It is the No. 5 cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States. Yet 80% of strokes can be prevented.
There are two major forms of stroke. An ischemic stroke is related to a blood clot and requires restoring the blood flow. A hemorrhagic stroke indicates bleeding and calls for controlling blood loss.
Let’s discuss how to recognize the symptoms, your risks, and prevention.
Recognize The Symptoms
The symptoms of a stroke depend on where in the brain they occur and the intensity of the event. Common signs include sudden numbness or loss of movement, especially if it affects only one side of your body. Other indicators are mental confusion, headaches, or trouble with vision, speaking, or balance.
We commonly educate our patients to use the acronym F.A.S.T. to detect stroke and take fast action. F is for facial drooping, A is for arm weakness, S is for slurred speech, and T for time to call 911. Though it has become more difficult to recognize stroke symptoms with the wearing of face masks/coverings, we must be all the more vigilant in quick identification and treatment.
Know Your Risk Factors
Some factors are beyond our control. These include being past the age of 55 or having a family history of strokes. Men and certain ethnic groups like African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians are also at higher risk.
Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to lower your risk. A healthy lifestyle will help keep your brain and whole body strong. Certain medical conditions, like diabetes or high blood pressure, also contribute to the likelihood of stroke, so that’s another good reason to manage them correctly.
The technical term for mini-strokes is transient ischemic attacks (TIA) where a blood vessel is briefly blocked. Up to half of all strokes occur within two days after a TIA so act promptly if you notice slurred speech or blurry vision.
Preventing and Treating Strokes
- Seek emergency care. The first hours after a stroke are a crucial opportunity to minimize brain damage. Go to the hospital immediately or call 911. Fast action makes all the difference.
- Talk with your doctor. Surgery is sometimes needed but many strokes are treated with medication and lifestyle changes. Your doctor can advise you on the best regimen for you.
- Quit smoking. Giving up tobacco lowers your risk of stroke in addition to all the other benefits. Check out the website of the American Lung Association for tips on quitting.
- Lose weight. Maintaining a healthy body weight will also help. Find a sensible diet you can stick with for life.
- Exercise regularly. Physical activity is good for your brain and waistline. Keep your circulatory system in prime condition with a half-hour aerobic workout at least a few days a week.
- Eat a balanced diet. Proper nutrition provides your brain cells with the fuel they need. Get most of your calories from vegetables, fruit, and whole grains. Select lean sources of protein and healthy fats.Limit your alcohol consumption. Using alcohol responsibly protects you from strokes. The general guidelines are two drinks or less daily for men and one for women.
Prompt medical treatment is vital to improve your chances of survival and recovery after a stroke. Even better, a healthy lifestyle can significantly reduce the risk of you or a loved one ever experiencing such an event.