Stroke Prevention: Control Everything You Can

Nearly 800,000 Americans suffer new or recurrent stroke every year. The older you are, the greater your risk of stroke. If not deadly, strokes can be devastating, disfiguring and disabling.

You can and should do everything possible to reduce your risk today. This starts with lifestyle changes and monitoring blood pressure. High blood pressure is a significant risk factor for women.  Eating healthy and not smoking can reduce your stroke risk, as well.

Stroke can strike suddenly, or symptoms may appear slowly, but the underlying conditions that lead to stroke can be present for years before a stroke occurs.

Stroke is the number 5 killer in the United States, and a leading cause of disability among older Americans. In fact:

  • 1 in every 20 deaths is from a stroke
  • 1 in 4 stroke survivors is at risk for another
  • Every 4 minutes, somebody in the U.S. dies of a stroke

Stroke interrupts blood flow to the brain— without oxygen, brain cells die.

Stroke is a form of cerebrovascular disease, meaning it affects the vessels that supply blood to the brain. Like the heart, the brain’s cells need a constant supply of oxygen-rich blood.

Strokes caused by a clot that cuts off blood flow to parts of the brain is referred to as “Ischemic Stroke.” This type of stroke makes up 87% of all strokes. It most often occurs when a blood clot or “thrombus” forms in an artery, usually affected by atherosclerosis — hardening of the arteries. Thus, plaque build-up in the arteries from high levels of cholesterol can block blood flow to the brain and cause a stroke just like plaque buildup can block flow to arteries in the heart and cause a heart attack.
 
Hemorrhagic strokes make up the other 13% of strokes. These occur when a weakened blood vessel, like an aneurysm, ruptures and spills blood. This bursting blood vessel may have been weakened by a head injury or by a condition present since birth. Hemorrhagic strokes can also result from uncontrolled high blood pressure.

Atrial Fibrillation patients are 5 times more likely to suffer a stroke.

Atrial fibrillation (“A-Fib”), or an irregular heart rhythm, is another major risk factor for ischemic embolic stroke. A-Fib is responsible for 15-20% percent of all strokes. And, while it is serious, it is also easily treated. Unfortunately, many women hesitate to take the most common blood thinning medications prescribed for A-Fib because it requires a bit more management than other medicine. However, it is a true lifesaver for those with the condition and they should follow their doctor’s orders.

Possible Hidden Causes of Stroke to discuss with your doctor:

Stroke is 80% Preventable.
Some risk factors for stroke are simply not controllable, but knowing what they are is still important in determining your overall risk for stroke. There are plenty of simple steps you can take to reduce your risk of stroke.
What you cannot change or control:
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Heredity
  • Past Stroke, History of  Transient Ischemic Attacks (“TIA” or “Mini-Strokes”) or prior Heart Attack

Things you can control or manage to lower your risk:

Already had a stroke or TIA?

You should create a plan to prevent another, which may include managing high blood pressure, controlling cholesterol levels, and discussing aspirin or other blood thinning medicines.

Quick Treatment = Less Brain Damage

Finally, if you think and act F.A.S.T., you can also reduce or eliminate the impact of a stroke. Detecting a stroke quickly can lead to timely treatment, which may improve recovery.
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 side drift downward?
S:  SPEECH – Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is speech slurred or strange?
T:  TIME – If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately. If they can get medical help within 3 hours, their chances of recovery can be greatly improved.

Until next time!

Stephanie Coulter, MD