Alan J. Schmitt
May is National Stroke Awareness Month and the importance of this meaningful month could mean the difference between life and death. In the United States, someone has a stroke every 40 seconds, and someone dies from a stroke every 3 and a half minutes. This staggeringly high number means that, even if you have never suffered from a stroke, someone in your life most likely has.
Although there are certain demographics, psychographics and medical history’s that make a stroke more likely to strike, it can truly happen to anyone at any age. This is why it’s so important to educate everyone on how to spot them early to help manage the effects that could happen afterwards. Read along as we dive into stroke risk factors, symptoms of a stroke and prevention.
What are some risk factors associated with stroke that I can control?
There are many factors of a stroke that you can control, treat and improve, such as:
- High blood pressure: This is the leading cause of a stroke. Much research attributes a decline in stroke-related deaths to the successful treatment of high blood pressure. There are no symptoms for high blood pressure, so it is important to get yours tested regularly. If it turns out that you do have high blood pressure, this can be treated with diet and exercise, along with medication.
- High cholesterol: Cholesterol is a fat-like substance made by the liver or found in certain foods. Taking in too much cholesterol than the body can use causes the cholesterol to build up in the arteries, including those in the brain, which can lead to stroke. Your cholesterol can be maintained by adhering to a proper diet.
- Diabetes: If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar under control. Diabetes can cause sugars to build up in the blood and prevent oxygen from getting to various parts of your body, even your brain.
- Obesity: This is linked to higher “bad” cholesterol and triglyceride levels and to lower “good” cholesterol levels. Obesity can also lead to high blood pressure and diabetes – both of which can lead to stroke. Proper diet, exercise and medical intervention can help lower your weight and therefore remove you further from the stroke risk zone.
- Smoking and vaping: Nicotine and carbon monoxide, found in cigarette smoke as well as vape smoke, damage the cardiovascular system, making the possibility of stroke far greater. Consider stopping smoking or vaping to lower your risk of stroke.
- Various heart diseases and conditions: People who have conditions like coronary heart disease, heart failure, congenital heart defects and atrial fibrillation (Afib) are exponentially more likely to have a stroke. Meeting with your cardiologist regularly to keep these conditions under control will help reduce your risk of stroke.
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What are some risk factors that are out of my control?
There are just as many factors that are out of your control that could lead to an increased likelihood of experiencing a stroke that you need to be aware of including:
- Genetics/family history. There are hereditary factors that leave you more likely to experience a stroke like having a family history of stroke or high blood pressure, a genetic disorder called sickle cell disease. Know your family history with strokes or factors that could lead to a stroke in order to stay on top of your health.
- Age: Although this is one we wish we could control, age does play a factor in stroke likelihood as the older you are, the more likely you are to have a stroke. The chance of having a stroke almost doubles every 10 years after age 55.
- Sex. Stroke is more common in women than men, and women are more likely to die from a stroke than men are. Some reasons for this disparity include pregnancy and the use of birth control pills.
- Ethnicity: People who are Black, Hispanic, American Indian and Native Alaskan are more likely to have a stroke than non-Hispanic white and Asian people. And the risk of having a first stroke is nearly twice as high for Black people as it is for white people.
What are the symptoms of a stroke?
After being educated about who is most at risk for stroke, it’s easy to see that a stroke can happen to anyone at any time. In fact, stroke is the leading cause of long-term disability and the fifth-leading cause of death in the U.S. But, the good news is that 80% of strokes can be prevented or reduced if people BE FAST. BE FAST is an acronym for things to check in a suspected stroke victim:
B – Balance: Do they have sudden difficulty with balance?
E – Eyes: Do they have sudden difficulty seeing, or double vision?
F – Face: Does their face droop on one side with the person smiles?
A – Arm: After raising both arms, does one of the arms drift downwards?
S – Speech: After repeating a simple phrase, does the persons speech sound slurred or strange?
T – Time: If any or all of the above are observed, call 911 and ask for medical assistance immediately
Additional symptoms may include: sudden severe headaches with no known cause, sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination, sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes, or sudden confusion.
The first few minutes of a stroke are extremely important as almost 2 million brain cells are lost every minute once a stroke begins.
Can a stroke be prevented?
While we never know when a stroke will occur, there is much we can do to significantly decrease our risk of a stroke. We can be proactive in our lifestyle by making choices such as:
Avoiding smoking and second-hand smoke when possible.
Improving your eating habits by eating foods low in saturated fat, added sugar and salt.
Getting regular physical activity in order to stay at a healthy weight.
Decreasing your stress levels. Research has shown that how our bodies react to stressful events and lifestyles in addition to our emotional responses to them have a significant bearing on our risk of stroke and heart attack; potentially more so than anything else.
Limiting your alcohol as increased alcohol intake leads to higher blood pressure, which can in turn lead to a stroke.
Taking your medicine, especially if you are taking it to treat heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes. Following your doctor’s instructions carefully when taking medications to improve these conditions is extremely important in stroke reduction.
Alan J. Schmitt, MD, specializes in neurology for IU Health Ball Memorial Physicians Neurology. Visithttps://iuhealth.org/find-medical-services/neurology for more information about our neurology program.