Stroke Awareness Month
May is National Stroke Awareness Month. CareStaf is dedicated to helping you learn more about identifying signs of a stroke and taking action. There are many resources and for those interested, we have compiled a short list at the end of this article. We have also created an infographic as a guide to stroke and the symptoms one might see. Feel free to share it or download it and keep it handy. You never know when you might need it. So what is a stroke? How many people does it affect? Does it only affect a certain age or gender? What are the signs and symptoms? What puts a person at risk for a stroke? To begin with, a stroke is a sort of “brain attack”. Contrary to what some believe, strokes do not occur in the heart. Instead, a stroke cuts off vital blood flow and oxygen to the brain. This can cause long-term adult disability and even death. Two million brain cells die every minute during a stroke, increasing the risk of permanent brain damage, disability or death. Recognizing the symptoms and acting quickly to get medical attention can save a life and limit disabilities. There are two different types of stroke. Ischemic stroke occurs when arteries are blocked by blood clots or by the gradual build-up of plaque and other fatty deposits. About 87% of all strokes are ischemic. The prevalence of transient ischemic attacks, or TIA (“mini strokes”), increases with age. About 40% of all people who suffer a TIA will go on to experience a stroke. Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain breaks and leaks blood into the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes account for about 15% of all stroke deaths. Stroke can happen to anyone, no matter their age, sex, or race. We normally think of someone having a stroke in their later years, but they have been known to occur in children too. Different people have different risks, but no one is completely safe from a stroke. Approximately 55,000 more women than men have a stroke each year and African Americans have almost twice the risk. On the bright side, however, from 1997 to 2007, the annual stroke death rate fell approximately 34% and the number of deaths fell by 18% according to the American Heart Association. Even so, according to the National Stroke Association, each year in the US, stroke is the leading cause of death. Nearly 130,000 people die of a stroke each year, but there are an estimated 7 million stroke survivors in the country over the age of 20. This year, approximately 795,000 strokes will occur, with one occurring every 40 seconds and taking a life every 4 minutes. There are several signs that someone is having a stroke. Unfortunately, few Americans know them. Learning the signs can save your life or the life of someone you love. When you see the signs of stroke, your first action should be to call 9-1-1. But how do you recognize a stroke? What are the symptoms? Just remember “FAST”:
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 sentence. Does the speech sound slurred or strange?
T = TIME: If you observe any of these signs (independently or together), call 9-1-1 immediately.
A stroke is preventable and there are many ways to reduce your risk of stroke. Everyone has some risk and some are beyond your control, such as age or gender. For example, stroke is more common among younger men, but older women and more women die from stroke. You cannot change your family history or cure your diabetes, both of which increase your risks. But you can make other changes. Talk with your doctor about what changes will work best for you. We have compiled a basic list to get you started.
Know your blood pressure and keep it under control by getting it checked at least once a year.
Find out if you have atrial fibrillation, or AF, as that can cause blood clots to form. Your doctor can detect AF by carefully checking your pulse.
If you smoke, stop. Smoking doubles the risk for stroke. The very day you stop smoking, your risk for stroke begins to decrease.
If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
Know your cholesterol number. If it’s high, work with your doctor to control it. Lowering your cholesterol may reduce your stroke risk. High cholesterol can also indirectly increase your risk by putting you at greater risk for heart disease. Much of the time, cholesterol can be controlled with diet and exercise, though some people require medication.
Control your diabetes, enjoy a lower sodium and lower fat diet, and include exercise. Leading a healthier lifestyle decreases the chance of developing conditions which can lead to stroke, such as diabetes and heart disease, among others.
All of these are important factors in preventing stroke, but always speak with your doctor about options and about diet and exercise changes. Up to 80% of strokes are preventable, but if you see signs occurring, always remember to act “FAST”. The National Stroke Association and the American Stroke Association are dedicated to educating the public. Join the Stroke Advocacy Network today and become a voice in the fight to save lives. Looking for an easy way to spread the word? Check out the infographic below!