Nearly 800,000 Americans suffer a stroke each year, and more than 137,000 people die from a stroke. It is the leading cause of disability in the United States. This unfortunate situation could be improved if people knew more about stroke warning signs and how to prevent strokes from happening.
What is a stroke?
Essentially, a stroke is a severe injury to the brain that occurs when a blood vessel that feeds the brain is either closed off by a clot (an ischemic stroke) or bursts (a hemorrhagic stroke). If deprived of its oxygen-rich blood supply even for just a few minutes, the brain becomes injured, and a portion of it may die.
Depending on its severity, a stroke may result in disability, such as motor and vision impairment, loss of feeling, difficulty with speech and language, problems with memory or loss of ability to reason. A stroke may also result in paralysis, coma or death.
Who is at risk?
A stroke usually results from cardiovascular disease, which develops over time. People affected by stroke usually have risk factors for stroke that have existed for years. Lifestyle factors and other health conditions that cause fatty deposits to build up in arteries or contribute to blood clots increase your risk for stroke. You can control or treat some of them, such as high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, carotid or other artery disease, abnormal heart rhythm, transient ischemic attacks (mini-strokes), certain blood disorders, sickle cell disease, high blood cholesterol, high triglycerides, physical inactivity, obesity and substance abuse.
Factors you cannot change include increasing age, gender (men are at higher risk than women), family history, race (African-Americans face greater risk) and having had a prior stroke or heart attack.
To reduce your stroke risk:
• Have regular checkups. Some major risk factors for stroke — high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes — often don’t have symptoms in their early stages. That’s why regular screenings are important to detect these risks while they’re still treatable.
• Make lifestyle changes. Adopt a stroke-protective lifestyle by reaching a healthy weight, lowering your salt intake, exercising regularly, limiting alcohol and quitting smoking.
• Follow your prescribed treatment. Atherosclerosis patients who follow their doctors’ advice about lifestyle changes and take their medications as directed will reduce their risk of stroke as well as heart attack.
If you or someone nearby has any of these stroke symptoms, dial 911 right away. These signs point to a stroke in progress. Seeking emergency medical treatment immediately may prevent severe disability or death.
• sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
• sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
• sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
• sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
• sudden, severe headache with no known cause