Strokes kill about 140,000 Americans each year and are the fifth leading cause of death according to the CDC.
A stroke occurs when there is a disruption of blood flow in the brain, either a blockage of a blood vessel (an ischemic stroke) or a blood vessel bursting and bleeding into the brain (a hemorrhagic stroke). The ischemic or blocked blood vessel stroke is most common, accounting for about 80-90% of strokes.
While there is no way to reliably predict strokes in the future, it is vitally important to spot the warning signs when a stroke is occurring.
Fast treatment can minimize the side effects of the stroke. If the victim of an ischemic stroke can get to the hospital within 3 hours of first symptoms, they can be given a drug such as tissue Plasminogen Activator (tPA) to break up the blood clot. Patients receiving tPA are more likely to recover fully or have fewer disabilities than those not getting the drug and are less likely to need long-term care.
There’s a quick and straightforward way to remember the signs of a stroke. The acronym is FAST:
F: – Face drooping.
A: – Arm Weakness.
S: – Speech Difficulty.
T: – Time to call 911.
Strokes affect one side of the body, causing weakness and loss of control. Ask the person to smile. Does their face droop on one side?
Arm weakness will occur on one side of the body. Ask them to raise both arms. Does one not go up all the way, or drift downward?
A difficulty with speech, especially slurring of words or being unable to be understood. Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “The dog is brown.” Can they correctly repeat the sentence?
Time to call 911.
If the above signs are present, do not hesitate to call 911 because time is of the essence. Remember the three-hour window to get them a clot-busting drug. Do not drive the person (or drive yourself, if you are the person that has the stroke warning signs) to the hospital. First responders transporting the patient to the hospital can diagnose and begin treatment on the way to the emergency room. The ambulance may also go to a specialized stroke center, which can provide the fastest treatment.
There is another type of stroke called a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA), often referred to as a “mini-stroke.”
This is where the blood flow to the brain is only blocked for a brief time, from a few seconds to no more than five minutes. Symptoms of a TIA can include vision trouble in one or more eyes, sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance, nausea or vomiting, and a sudden, severe headache with no explanation.
A TIA may or may not include the F.A.S.T. signs.
Even though the TIA symptoms are temporary, it should be treated as any other stroke, call 911 immediately. Medical treatment is needed because a TIA is a warning sign of a future stroke. A third of people who have an untreated TIA will have a major stroke within one year, and 15% will have that stroke within three months. And there is no way to know if the symptoms you’re seeing now is a TIA or the start of a major stroke.
There are some conditions that increase the risk of a stroke:
- Previous stroke or TIA increases chances of another stroke.
- High blood pressure is a leading cause of stroke.
- High cholesterol can cause narrowing of the arteries, making blockage more likely.
- Coronary artery disease is plaque building up in the arteries, blocking the flow of blood.
- Diabetes increases the risk of stroke because high sugars in the blood prevent oxygen getting to parts of the body, including the brain. High blood pressure is common in those with diabetes.
- Sickle Cell Anemia is associated with ischemic strokes since the disease causes some red blood cells to take on an abnormal sickle shape. If sickle cells get stuck in blood vessels in the brain, blocking blood flow, a stroke occurs.
Making these healthy lifestyle changes can lower the risk of stroke:
- Eat a healthy diet, since saturated fats, trans fat, and bad cholesterol can lead to heart disease, and too much salt can raise blood pressure.
- Regular physical activity can control or lower high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is associated with high blood pressure, diabetes, and higher “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and lower “good” cholesterol (HDL).
- Moderate alcohol use. Since too much alcohol can raise blood pressure.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking can damage the heart and blood vessels, nicotine raises blood pressure, and the carbon monoxide from cigarette smoke lessens the amount of oxygen your blood can carry.
Regardless of risk factors or healthy behaviors, know the warning signs that a stroke is occurring, and act F.A.S.T.!
A video by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for recognizing the signs and symptoms of Stroke: https://youtu.be/mkpbbWZvYmw