May is American Stroke Awareness Month

Summary Points

  • Who is at risk for a stroke?
  • What are the symptoms of a stroke?
  • What to do if someone is having a stroke.
  • How to prevent a stroke.

 

A stroke happens when blood flow to a part of your brain is cut off. Without the oxygen from your blood, brain cells start dying within minutes.  One in five people will have a stroke in their lifetime.  One-quarter of strokes are fatal, and they are the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.

Some people have “mini-strokes” or transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) caused by temporary blockages of an artery.  These do not cause permanent brain damage, but it can raise your odds of having a stroke.  There are two main types of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic.

Ischemic strokes are more common and happen when a blood vessel that takes blood to your brain gets clogged from a fatty deposit that breaks off and travels to the brain.  It can also happen with a blood clot which can form if you have an irregular heartbeat.

Hemorrhagic strokes are less common but can be more serious.  A blood vessel in your brain balloons up and bursts, or a weakened one leaks.

 

What puts you at risk for a stroke?

  • High blood pressure: This is the biggest cause of strokes. Ideally, you want your blood pressure to be less than 130/80.  Medications help lower your blood pressure along with exercise, healthy eating and losing weight if you are overweight.
  • Tobacco: Smoking cigarettes and chewing tobacco raise your chance of having a stroke. It can cause a fatty buildup in your main neck artery and thickens your blood which can make it more likely to clot. Secondhand smoke can also increase your risk of having a stroke.
  • Diabetes: Diabetes damages your blood vessels which makes a stroke more likely. People who are diabetic also tend to have high blood pressure and are more likely to be overweight.
  • Genetics: Strokes can run in families. You and your relatives may share a tendency to get high blood pressure or diabetes. Some strokes can be brought on by a genetic disorder that blocks blood flow to the brain.
  • High Cholesterol: Bad cholesterol can enter the artery wall and accumulate. This accumulation is called a plaque.  Plaques can rupture, causing a blood clot which can then travel to the brain.
  • Race: Strokes affect African Americans and non-white Hispanic Americans much more often than any other group in the U.S.
  • Obesity: Because of excess fat in the body, inflammation is likely to occur, which causes poor blood flow and potential blockages

 

What are the symptoms of a stroke?

  • Sudden weakness on one side (in the face, arm, or leg).
  • Slurred speech or inability to remember words, confusion.
  • Sudden blurry or double vision.
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance, or lack of coordination.
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause.

 

What should I do if I think I am having a stroke?

According to the CDC, acting F.A.S.T. can help stroke patients get the treatments they desperately need. The stroke treatments that work best are available only if the stroke is recognized and diagnosed within 3 hours of the first symptoms. Stroke patients may not be eligible for these if they do not arrive at the hospital in time.

If you think someone may be having a stroke, act F.A.S.T. and do the following simple test:

F—Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

A—Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S—Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is the speech slurred or strange?

T—Time: If you see any of these signs, call 9-1-1 right away.

Note the time when any symptoms first appear. This information helps health care providers determine the best treatment for each person. Do not drive to the hospital or let someone else drive you. Call an ambulance so that medical personnel can begin life-saving treatment on the way to the emergency room.

 

What if my symptoms go away on their own?

If your symptoms go away after a few minutes, you may have had a transient ischemic attack (TIA).  Although brief, a TIA is a sign of a serious condition that will not go away without medical help. Unfortunately, because TIAs clear up, many people ignore them. But paying attention to a TIA can save your life. Tell your health care team about your symptoms right away.

 

How can I prevent a stroke?

  • Lower your blood pressure.
  • Stay away from tobacco.
  • Control your diabetes.
  • Exercise 30 minutes, 5 days a week.
  • Watch your cholesterol.
  • Take your medications as prescribed.
  • Consider an aspirin a day if your doctor says it is appropriate.
  • Eat better foods. Load up on fresh fruits and veggies (broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and leafy greens, like spinach, are best) every day. Choose lean proteins and high-fiber foods. Stay away from trans and saturated fats, which can clog your arteries. Cut salt and avoid processed foods. They are often loaded with salt, which can raise your blood pressure and trans fats.

 

Stroke is PREVENTABLE and TREATABLE. To learn more, visit https://www.cdc.gov/stroke or contact your doctor.

Urban Health and Wellness provides routine primary care, manages chronic illness and/or diseases, and assists with accessing prescription medications. To make an appointment, please call 404-618-6983 and press 1. For more information about Urban Health and Wellness visit https://uhwclinic.org/.

 

Author:

Urban Health and Wellness
Susan Whatley, ARNP
Executive Director

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