Every year, nearly 800,000 people experience a new or recurrent stroke. In other words, a stroke happens every 40 seconds. Unfortunately, a stroke also claims a life every four minutes. With statistics like these, strokes are now the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S., as well as the leading cause of adult disability. However, up to 50 percent of strokes are preventable. Do you know the best actions for surviving a stroke?
What is a stroke?
A stroke occurs when blood flow to an area of the brain is cut off. The brain cells die because they become deprived of the oxygen and glucose needed to survive. When brain cells die during a stroke, abilities controlled by that area of the brain such as memory and muscle control are lost.There are two types of stroke:
This stroke is similar to a heart attack, except it occurs in the blood vessels of the brain. Clots can form in the brain's blood vessels, in blood vessels leading to the brain, or even in blood vessels elsewhere in the body that then travel to the brain. These clots block blood flow to the brain's cells. Ischemic stroke can also occur when too much plaque (fatty deposits and cholesterol) clogs the brain's blood vessels. About 80% of all strokes are ischemic.
Strokes in this category occur when a blood vessel in the brain breaks. The result is blood seeping into the brain tissue, causing damage to brain cells. The most common causes of this kind of stroke are high blood pressure and aneurysms. An aneurysm is a thinness in the blood vessel wall.
Is it Possible to Prevent a Stroke?
Research shows that 50 percent of all strokes are preventable. Men over the age of 65 with a family history of stroke have the highest risk of stroke. While factors like age and family history are uncontrollable risk factors, there are several controllable ways to decrease the risk of stroke. Keep the following factors in mind when accessing stroke prevention:
High blood pressure
Blood pressure is the force of blood pressing against the walls of your arteries. When it is too high, your heart has to work harder. Not only can this cause severe damage to your arteries, but it may lead to heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke. In fact, high blood pressure is a primary risk factor for stroke in both men and women. Monitoring your blood pressure, treating elevated blood pressure, and actively working to lower your blood pressure, are essential steps for preventing a stroke.
Diabetes happens when the pancreas produces very little or no insulin or when the body does not respond well to insulin. People who have diabetes are two to four times more likely to have a stroke than those without diabetes. The connection between diabetes and stroke has to do with the way the body handles blood glucose to make energy. When people with diabetes have too much glucose in their blood, their cells don't receive enough power. Over time, this glucose can lead to increased fatty deposits or clots on the insides of the blood vessel walls. These clots can narrow or block the blood vessels in the brain or neck, cutting off the blood supply, stopping oxygen from getting to the brain and causing a stroke. Keeping diabetes in check is a major step towards preventing stroke.
Choices we make about our lifestyle have a big impact on our risk of stroke. In terms of stroke prevention, obesity, smoking, and excessive alcohol intake are the top three indicators of risk. Smoking makes you twice as likely to die if you have a stroke and increases your chances of having a stroke in the first place. The cigarette smoke affects your cholesterol levels; if there is too much cholesterol in your blood, it can lead to heart disease and stroke. Obesity can increase the risk of stroke due to inflammation caused by excess fatty tissue. This can lead to difficulty in blood flow and increased risk of blockage. Lastly, excessive alcohol consumption contributes to having a stroke because it worsens other stroke risk factors like high blood pressure and obesity.
Symptoms of a Stroke
Your best chance of surviving a stroke is to get immediate medical treatment. Don’t delay in calling 911 if you or someone you know has symptoms of a stroke. A stroke is a medical emergency, and immediate treatment can save your life and increase the chances of a full recovery. Signs of a stroke include the following:
- Weakness or numbness occurring in the face, arm, or leg on one side of the body.
- Loss of vision or dimming. Often describes as a curtain falling, this can occur in one or both eyes.
- Loss of speech or difficulty hearing. In other words, be on the lookout for lack of understanding what others are saying.
- A sudden severe headache with no known cause.
- Loss of balance or unsteady walking, usually combined with another symptom.
Even though strokes happens every 40 seconds, you don't have to become a casualty. Start working on improving your health now and reduce your risk factors. Encourage your friends and family to learn about the symptoms, and always call 911 immediately if you have even the slightest suspicion that you or a loved one may be having a stroke.