Strokes can happen at any age, and it’s important to understand what they do to the brain and the measures you can take to prevent them. Approximately 7 million Americans above the age of 20 suffer from a stroke every year. Of those, 20% are in people under the age of 65.
May is National Stroke Awareness Month, so it’s a great time to brush up on the facts about strokes and dig deeper into some things you may not have known before. The most important takeaway is learning how strokes can be prevented and what to look for as a sign of a stroke.
Types of Strokes
A stroke is defined as damage to the brain from interruption of its blood supply. This can happen by a buildup, or clot, of plaque in an artery. The most common (more than 85 percent) are ischemic strokes. Similar to heart attacks, but in the brain, ischemic strokes are usually the result of cerebrovascular disease.
Hemorrhagic strokes are the second most common and are caused by blood leaking into the brain or between the brain and the skull. This could be caused by a head injury or prolonged high blood pressure.
Signs of a Stroke
There are signs you can watch out for if you think you or someone you know is having a stroke. Be on the lookout for these symptoms and call 911 or get to an emergency room right away if you notice:
- Trouble speaking or understanding without explanation. This can include slurred speech or speaking “nonsense”
- Sudden confusion
- Sudden numbness/weakness on one side of the body
- Sudden difficulty seeing in one or (both) eyes, flickering light or shadows in peripheral vision, or loss of peripheral vision
- Sudden dizziness, loss of coordination or balance
- Unexplained headaches
You can also use the F.A.S.T. technique as a tool for recognizing the signs and symptoms of a stroke:
- Face – facial droop, uneven smile
- Arms – arm weakness/numbness
- Speech – slurred speech or difficulty understanding or communicating
- Time – Time is of the essence! Call 9-1-1 immediately.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, treatment within 3 hours of the onset of a stroke can reduce the effects of the stroke significantly. To be evaluated and receive treatment, it’s best to get the patient to the hospital within 1 hour. Be sure to communicate to emergency personnel that you believe the victim is experiencing a stroke so that they will be pushed ahead of other conditions that may not be as time sensitive to treatment.
There are also “silent strokes”, where one might not have any of these symptoms. The silent stroke can be found if you undergo a test for an unrelated reason, and lesions are found in the brain. Your doctor will tell you what you can do to prevent future strokes, since you now know you are more susceptible to them.
Risks & Preventions The following factors put people at risk of suffering a stroke:
- Heart Disease which includes high cholesterol and high blood pressure
- Physical inactivity
- Irregular Heartbeat
- Family history of stroke
You can consider ischemic strokes to be like a heart attack for the brain. So the preventions are similar. Since ischemic strokes are commonly caused by cerebrovascular dysfunction, a healthy diet and exercise are important. Regular exercise keeps the blood flowing the way it should, thus decreasing the risk of clots or plaque buildup. Also, be sure to keep cholesterol and blood pressure in the normal range to reduce risk even further.
Dr. Fayaz believes that patient education is essential in assessing and preventing stroke. Don’t wait until it’s too late- spread awareness so that others may understand the necessary precautions.