May 23, 2010
May is Stroke Awareness Month. When it comes to identifying and treating a stroke, every second counts. Stroke, a type of cardiovascular disease, is the No. 3 cause of death in the United States and the No. 1 cause of adult disability. Its appearance can be sudden and its effects life threatening.
But, by learning to recognize the signs of a stroke, you can help loved ones receive quicker attention and treatment and increase the chances for a healthy outcome.
Stroke presents itself in many ways, but the symptoms are always with a sudden onset:
- Sudden onset of weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg (especially if on one side of the body)
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause
If you witness any of these symptoms in yourself or someone else, make note of the time and immediately call 911.
The best treatment, of course, is prevention. There are a number of risk factors for stroke that we cannot change, such as family history of stroke, being older than 55, being male, being African American, having diabetes and having had a previous transient ischemic attack (TIA).
However, there are a number of risk factors for stroke you can modify:
- Know your blood pressure and work with your healthcare providers to lower the values if they are high.
- If you have atrial fibrillation, which is irregular beating of your heart, work with your healthcare providers to have it managed.
Atrial fibrillation can cause blood to collect and clot in the main pumping chamber of your heart, and if these clots get loose, they can cause a stroke by blocking blood flow through vessels that supply blood to your brain.
- Know your cholesterol numbers.
High cholesterol numbers can increase your risk for stroke, as high cholesterol can cause plaque buildup and narrowing and eventually blockage of blood vessels that supply blood to your brain. (Goal numbers for total cholesterol less than 200 and an LDL less than 100).
- If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugars under control (Goal blood sugar value of less than 120, or a hemoglobin A1C less than 7.)
- Ask your healthcare providers if you have circulation problems.
Fatty deposits can block arteries. Sickle cell disease, severe anemia or other untreated blood disorders can cause a stroke.
Make a Change
You also can make lifestyle changes to reduce your risk for stroke, including:
- Tobacco use. One word: Stop.
Seek the assistance of your healthcare providers for ways to help you quit, for good.
- Keep alcohol intake to a minimum (no more than one drink daily for women, and two drinks daily for men).
- Include exercise in your daily activities (recommended at 30 minutes daily).
- Avoid the salt shaker, or use a salt substitute. High-salt diets can elevate your blood pressure.
- Reduce your fat intake. High fat levels can lead to clogged arteries, increasing your risk for stroke.
Don’t underestimate your risk for stroke. Take control of your lifestyle, know your risk factors and know the signs of stroke. It can save your life.