Stroke: What you need to know |

Stroke: What you need to know

Mary Beth TeSelle
Special to The Union

Every year, more than three-quarters of a million people in our country will suffer a stroke. More than 140,000 people in the United States die from stroke each year. It is the leading cause of serious, long-term disability and can affect people at any age.

While these statistics are sobering, it is important to know that all of us can take steps to reduce our risk for stroke. And there are treatment options available, especially when strokes are treated quickly.

Understanding Stroke

A stroke happens when blood supply to the brain is blocked (ischemic stroke) or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts (hemorrhagic stroke). This causes brain tissue to die, which can lead to brain damage and possibly death.

Anyone, at any age, can have a stroke, however there are factors that can increase your risk. These include age (risk increases with age), sex (men are more likely to suffer a stroke, but women are more likely to die from stroke) and ethnicity (strokes are more likely in African Americans).

Other risk factors which can be controlled include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity and using tobacco products.

Spotting the Signs

When someone is experiencing a stroke, recognizing it quickly and seeking treatment immediately is critically important.

During a stroke, brain cells are dying and if blood flow to the brain is restored with treatment, the part of the brain that was affected may be able to return to normal. In essence, treatment must begin as fast as possible in order to save as much brain as possible.

“Time is brain! Every minute you wait, you lose 1.9 million brain cells,” explains Avijit Baidwan, MD, Stroke Medical Director, Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. “Every hour wasted is like aging 3.6 years.”

Common signs of stroke include:

• Sudden dizziness, trouble walking, or loss of balance or coordination

• Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

• Sudden severe headache with no known cause

• Sudden numbness of the face, arm or leg

• Sudden confusion or trouble understanding others

An easy way to remember the most common signs of stroke is by using the acronym B.E. F.A.S.T.:

B = Balance impairment: Ask the person to walk. Is there postural sway?

E = Eyes: Ask the person about their vision. Is one half of the visual field blurry?

F = Face drooping: Ask the person to smile. Does one side droop?

A = Arm weakness: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S = Speech difficulty: Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Are the words slurred?

T = Time to call 911: If the person shows any of these signs, call 911 immediately.

Stroke Prevention

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that as many as 80% of all strokes are preventable.

The CDC says that high blood pressure is the single most important treatable risk factor for stroke. Preventing, diagnosing, and controlling it through lifestyle changes and medicine are critical to reducing stroke risks.

Other preventative measures include eating a healthy diet; maintaining a healthy weight; being physically active; not smoking; limiting alcohol use; and preventing or managing other chronic conditions. Following up with your doctor is also important for detecting heart rhythm abnormalities such as Atrial Fibrillation, which increase risk for stroke.

“Stroke directly affects your quality of life and therefore every effort should be made to prevent it,” says Dr. Baidwan. “It’s also important to note that following one stroke, your risk of another stroke goes up and recurrent strokes have a much higher rate of death and disability.”

Talk to your doctor to learn more about your personal risk for stroke and what you can do to reduce it.

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