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Senior Health

How to Protect Yourself from Strokes

During National Stroke Awareness Month, take an opportunity to learn about brain health and its importance. 

Your brain controls movement, speech, and memories. Essentially, it makes us who we are. But, when something interrupts blood flow in your brain vessels, the consequence can be a stroke.

Strokes stand as the leading cause of disability in the United States and the fifth-leading cause of death. In fact, roughly 400 Americans die every day from strokes. While the rate of strokes among people 65 and older has been trending down since 1987, it has slowly been increasing among younger adults.

While they can be devastating, four out of five strokes are preventable. Changes to diet and behavior, along with cholesterol and blood pressure medication, have helped cut death rates significantly in the last 20 years. Rapid recognition has also improved recovery chances.

Here’s what you should know about protecting yourself.

Take F.A.S.T. Action

When blood stops flowing to part of the brain, it becomes deprived of oxygen, and the cells in that area start dying. Symptoms include numbness on one side of the body, confusion, blurred vision, a severe headache, and trouble walking. Recognizing these symptoms and responding quickly are crucial for limiting the damage. Think “FAST” when identifying the symptoms of a stroke:

  • Face  Look at the person’s face. Ask them to smile and see if one side droops.
  • Arms  Have the person hold both arms in front of themselves. It is likely one arm drifts down or is unable to rise.
  • Speech — Talk with the person and note if their speech is slurred or incoherent.
  • Time — Check the time to see when these symptoms started and dial 911 immediately.

Do not wait for the symptoms to stop and call even if things seem to go back to normal. The damage or disability caused by a stroke is greater the longer it goes untreated.

The Difference Between Strokes

When someone has a stroke, there is an 80% chance it is an ischemic stroke. These are caused by a blockage in an artery in the brain. The most common treatment for ischemic strokes is a drug that dissolves the clot, but it must be given within three hours of the stroke. Clots can also be removed by inserting a stent to clear the blockage.

A hemorrhagic stroke occurs in 20 percent of stroke patients. This type of stroke is caused when a blood vessel ruptures and blood goes where it should not, damaging tissue. In a hemorrhagic stroke, the bleeding must be stopped. A catheter with a small camera will be inserted so the doctor can see what is happening. When it reaches the source of the bleeding it will deposit a coil to close the rupture. In the case of an aneurysm, where there is swelling in the vessel, surgery may be required.

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a temporary restriction of blood flow to the brain. Sometimes the blockage is so brief and the symptoms so minor they go unnoticed or are easily dismissed. A TIA is often a precursor to a more serious ischemic stroke. It is important NOT to ignore TIA symptoms and seek medical attention immediately.

A senior man does physical therapy.

The Recovery Process

The sooner treatment is administered, the better the odds of recovery. Unfortunately, once the damage has been done, it is permanent. Brain cells die and the body does not make more.

Physical and occupational therapy are often required to help stroke patients relearn to walk, eat, swallow, regain control of muscles, speak, or care for themselves. Thankfully, these can be relearned with time and therapy. A stroke may also cause some to lose memories or encounter problems with critical thinking. 

Who is at Risk?

Everyone is in danger of having a stroke. Children can suffer strokes just before birth and a few weeks after. Women are less likely than men to suffer a stroke, but they must deal with unique risk factors tied to hormonal changes like pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause that increase the chance. Nearly 800,000 Americans each year have a stroke, and 75% of those are first strokes. One-third of stroke patients have another stroke within two years.

The risk increases with age. Most strokes affect people over 65. African Americans and Hispanics are at an increased risk of stroke. African Americans are twice as likely to die from a stroke as whites or Asians.

A senior couple does yoga at home.

Reducing Your Risk

Everyone can reduce the risk of having a stroke by doing the following:

While National Stroke Awareness Month ends in May, monitoring your brain health should be done year-round. By knowing the symptoms, risk factors, and strategies for prevention, you’re prepared to help keep yourself and others safe.

AltaMed is Your Partner for Growing Healthy

High blood pressurediabetes, and cardiovascular disease (heart conditions such as damaged vessels, blood clots, or structural issues) are contributing factors for strokes, but they are controllable with a doctor’s care.

AltaMed offers many programs to combat stroke risk and promote healthy living. They include:

Follow the links above for more information or call (888) 499-9303.

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How to Protect Yourself from Strokes