May is Stroke Awareness Month. Strokes are one of the leading causes of death in the United States. It is important to recognize your risk, the warning signs, and what to do if you suspect you or a loved one is having a stroke.
What is a Stroke?
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) reports that about 795,000 Americans suffer from a stroke each year. Approximately 160,000 individuals die each year from stroke-related causes. A stroke occurs when blood circulation to the brain fails. The lack of oxygen can kill brain cells. There are two main types of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic. The first is the most frequent cause of a stroke, resulting in about 80% of cases. Ischemic strokes are caused by a blocked blood vessel in the brain or neck. It could be due to a blood clot in the brain or neck, a blood clot in another part of the body that moves to the brain or neck, or the severe narrowing of blood vessels that lead to the brain. On the other hand, a hemorrhagic stroke, which is far less common, is a result of bleeding into or near the brain.
While you can’t control your age (older adults are more susceptible), gender (men have a higher risk), race, or family history, you can try to control a few other risk factors. You are more at risk of having a stroke if you have high blood pressure or cholesterol, if you smoke, if you are diabetic, or if you are obese. You are also at risk if you’ve had a stroke or transient ischemic attack (also called a TIA or mini-stroke). Brain damage caused by a stroke causes the other parts of your brain to do double duty; a second stroke can be devastating. Understanding your risk factors can help save your life.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “Act F.A.S.T.” when it comes to stroke. FAST is an acronym individuals should use to remember the signs of a stroke. It stands for face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty, and time to call 911. It is also a reminder that you should act quickly if you think you or a loved one is suffering from a stroke. The symptoms of a stroke come on very suddenly. Individuals may experience trouble seeing, talking, or walking. They may have weakness on one side, sudden confusion, and a severe headache. It is important to get immediate help to prevent further damage to the brain.
A stroke can be debilitating. Afterwards, individuals may struggle with speech, walking, talking, concentration, and other cognitive impairments. It can also be extremely difficult emotionally. To learn more, visit the American Stroke Association.