The brain is an incredibly complex organ that controls our movement, speech, memories, and essentially makes us who we are. If something interrupts blood flow in just one of the vessels crisscrossing our brain, the result is a stroke, and those brain functions are put into jeopardy.
Stroke is the leading cause of disability in the United States and the fifth-leading cause of death. There are around 400 deaths in the U.S. each day due to stroke. The incidence of stroke among people 65 and older — when strokes are more common — has been going down since 1987. It has slowly been increasing among younger adults.
While strokes 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 stroke recognition has also improved recovery chances for those who have suffered a stroke.
Take F.A.S.T. Action
When blood is not flowing to a part of the brain, it is being deprived of oxygen, and the brain cells in that area start dying. Symptoms include numbness on one side of the body, confusion, blurred vision, a severe headache, and trouble walking. Knowing the symptoms of a stroke and responding quickly are crucial for limiting the damage that results. 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’s 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.
Don’t 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.
Improving the Odds
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. 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 shouldn’t and damages tissue.
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.
In a hemorrhagic stroke, the bleeding must be stopped. A catheter with a small camera will be inserted so the doctor can see what’s 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’s important NOT to ignore the symptoms and seek medical attention immediately.
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 doesn’t 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. A stroke may cause some to lose memories or encounter problems with critical thinking. These can all be relearned with time and therapy.
Who’s 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.
Stroke risk increases with age: the majority of strokes affect people over 65. African Americans and Hispanics are at an increased risk of stroke. African Americans, however, are twice as likely to die from a stroke as whites or Asians.
Everyone can reduce the risk of having a stroke by doing the following:
- Don’t use drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine
- Limit your alcohol intake
- Lower your cholesterol
- Manage your weight
- Stay active
- Stop smoking
AtlaMed Can Help
High blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea, and cardiovascular disease are contributing factors but they are controllable with a doctor’s care.
AltaMed offers many programs to improve people’s overall health and reduce the risk of stroke. They include:
- STOMP Family Health & Fitness Program to manage and prevent obesity
- Online diabetes prevention and management programs
- Diabetes support groups
- Dietitian consultations
- A Healthy Heart Program
- AltaMed PACE, the Program for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, which may be a good option for seniors who need extra care
Follow the links above for more information or call (888) 499-9303.