May is National Stroke Awareness Month and the significance of this meaningful month could mean the difference between life and death. In the United States, someone has a stroke every 40 seconds and someone dies every 3.5 minutes. This incredibly high number means that even if you have never suffered a stroke, someone in your life most likely has.
While there are certain demographics, psychographics, and medical histories that make a stroke more likely to happen, it really can happen to anyone, at any age. This is why it is so important to educate everyone on how to spot them early to help manage any effects that may occur later. Read while diving into stroke risk factors, stroke symptoms and prevention.
What risk factors associated with stroke can I control?
There are many factors of a stroke that you can control, treat and improve, such as:
- High blood pressure: This is the main cause of stroke. Much research attributes a decline in stroke-related deaths to effective treatment of high blood pressure. There are no symptoms of high blood pressure, so it’s important to get tested regularly. If you are found to have high blood pressure, it can be treated with diet and exercise, as well as medication.
- High cholesterol: Cholesterol is a fat-like substance made by the liver or found in certain foods. Taking in too much cholesterol that the body cannot use causes cholesterol to build up in the arteries, including those in the brain, which can lead to stroke. Your cholesterol levels can be maintained by adhering to a proper diet.
- Diabetes: If you have diabetes, check your blood sugar. Diabetes can cause blood sugar to build up and prevent oxygen from reaching various parts of your body, even your brain.
- Obesity: This is linked to higher levels of “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides and lower levels of “good” cholesterol. Obesity can also lead to high blood pressure and diabetes, both of which can lead to stroke. Proper diet, exercise and medical intervention can help you reduce your weight and therefore move you further away from the stroke risk zone.
- Smoking and vaping: Nicotine and carbon monoxide, found in cigarette smoke as well as vaping smoke, damage the cardiovascular system, greatly increasing the risk of stroke. Consider quitting smoking or vaping to reduce your risk of stroke.
- Various heart diseases and conditions: People with conditions such as coronary heart disease, heart failure, congenital heart defects, and atrial fibrillation (Afib) are exponentially more likely to have a stroke. Meeting with your cardiologist regularly to keep these conditions under control will help reduce your risk of stroke.
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What are the risk factors that are beyond my control?
There are just as many factors beyond your control that could lead to an increased likelihood of having a stroke that you should be aware of, including:
- Genetics/family history. Certain hereditary factors make you more likely to have a stroke, such as a family history of stroke or high blood pressure, a genetic condition called sickle cell disease. Know your family history of stroke or factors that can lead to stroke so you can stay on top of your health.
- Age: Although we would like to be able to control this factor, age plays a role in the likelihood of a stroke, as the older you are, the more likely you are to have a stroke. The risk of having a stroke doubles almost every 10 years after age 55.
- Sex. Stroke is more common in women than in men, and women are more likely to die from stroke than men. Some reasons for this disparity include pregnancy and the use of birth control pills.
- Ethnicity: Black, Hispanic, Native American, and Alaska Native people are more likely to have a stroke than non-Hispanic white and Asian people. And the risk of having a first stroke is almost twice as high for blacks as for whites.
What are the symptoms of a stroke?
After learning about who is most at risk for stroke, it’s easy to see that a stroke can happen to anyone at any time. In fact, stroke is the leading cause of long-term disability and the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. But the good news is that 80% of strokes can be prevented or reduced if people ARE FAST. BE FAST is an acronym for things to check in a suspected stroke victim:
B – Balance: Does he have sudden difficulties with balance?
E – Eyes: Do they suddenly have difficulty seeing, or double vision?
F – Face: Does his face droop to one side with the person smiling?
A – Arms: After raising both arms, does one of the arms drift down?
S – Speech: After repeating a simple sentence, does the person’s speech sound garbled or strange?
T – Time: If any or all of the above are observed, call 911 and seek medical assistance immediately
Other symptoms may include: sudden severe headache with no known cause, sudden difficulty walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination, sudden difficulty seeing in one or both eyes, or confusion sudden.
The first few minutes of a stroke are extremely important because nearly 2 million brain cells are lost every minute once a stroke begins.
Can a stroke be prevented?
Although we never know when a stroke will occur, there is a lot we can do to significantly reduce our risk of stroke. We can be proactive in our lifestyle by making choices such as:
Avoid smoking and second-hand smoke when possible.
Improve your eating habits by consuming foods low in saturated fat, added sugars and salt.
Practice regular physical activity to maintain a healthy weight.
Lower your stress level. Research has shown that how our bodies respond to stressful events and lifestyles, in addition to our emotional responses to them, significantly impacts our risk of stroke and heart attack; potentially more than anything else.
Limit your alcohol consumption, as increased alcohol consumption leads to higher blood pressure, which in turn can lead to stroke.
Take your medicine, especially if you are taking it to treat heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes. Carefully following your doctor’s instructions when taking medications to improve these conditions is extremely important in reducing strokes.
Alan J. Schmitt, MD, specializes in neurology for IU Health Ball Memorial Physicians Neurology. To visithttps://iuhealth.org/find-medical-services/neurology for more information on our Neurology program.