Stroke: Signs and symptoms — and how you can prevent them.

Today, many doctors and health care experts have begun to refer to a stroke as a “brain attack.” That’s because a stroke basically works the same as a heart attack — the blood supply to a vital organ (in this case, the brain) is interrupted, and that organ’s cells begin dying in a matter of minutes.

That’s why it’s essential to know the stroke signs and to seek medical care as soon as possible if you or someone you’re with is experiencing:

  • Sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion or trouble understanding
  • Slurred speech
  • Sudden difficulty walking, dizziness or loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache

Each year, over three-quarters of a million Americans suffer a stroke. Nearly 140,000 of those will die. And while most will survive, they’ll often face a long and difficult road back. Sadly, many never fully recover from the damage done, which can include:

  • Paralysis on one side of the body
  • Speech and language difficulties
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Memory loss
  • Thinking difficulties
  • Pain, numbness or other unusual sensations in affected parts of the body
  • Behavioral changes
  • Difficulty with self-care and daily chores

“Stroke remains the leading cause of disability in the United States and 5th leading cause of death,” said Maria Abraham, MPAS, PA-C, Director of St. Clair Hospital’s Neuroscience Service Line. “Major causes of stroke include atrial fibrillation, atherosclerosis, and the effects of high blood pressure. Strokes can be either ischemic, caused by a lack of blood flow, accounting for approximately 85% of all strokes; or hemorrhagic, caused by a ruptured artery, which make up the remaining 15%. Patients should seek medical attention immediately to determine the type of stroke and the appropriate treatment.”

The best way to avoid complications of stroke and their impact on your life is, of course, to avoid a stroke altogether. Luckily, there’s good news on that front.

Stroke Prevention

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), up to 80% of strokes can be prevented by focusing on two specific strategies.

Healthy Living

Making smart lifestyle choices can hedge against many of the causes of strokes.

  • Diet —Eating foods high in fiber and low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol can lower your serum cholesterol, a key risk factor for stroke. Meanwhile, lowering your sodium intake can lower your blood pressure in return — and high blood pressure is a major cause of stroke.
  • Weight — Being overweight increases your risk of suffering a stroke. Your doctor can help you determine whether your weight is in a healthy range, and what you can do if it isn’t.
  • Exercise — Physical activity can improve your cardiovascular fitness, lower or maintain a healthy weight, reduce your cholesterol and lower your blood pressure. Just thirty minutes of moderate-intensity activity five days a week (such as a brisk walk) can make a big difference in preventing a stroke.
  • Alcohol — Too much alcohol can increase your blood pressure. The CDC recommends no more than two drinks a day for men, one for women.
  • Smoking — Cigarettes dramatically increase your odds of having a stroke. If you don’t smoke, never start. And if you do, your doctor can help you quit.

Controlling Health Issues

If you have an existing health condition, proper management is the key to avoiding a stroke.

  • Cholesterol — If you have high cholesterol, take it seriously. Follow your doctor’s advice on lifestyle changes and medications and get your levels tested annually.
  • Blood Pressure — High blood pressure is a time bomb. You don’t feel it, but it’s potentially deadly. Get it checked regularly at home, a pharmacy or your doctor’s office. And again, follow your doctor’s advice.
  • Diabetes — This “silent epidemic” is a leading risk factor for stroke. Be sure to check your blood sugar levels regularly and follow your doctor’s treatment plan religiously. And remember that heredity plays a role in diabetes. So if you’re concerned that you may have it, talk to your doctor about testing.
  • Heart Disease — Certain heart conditions, like an irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation) increase your risk of stroke. If you notice your heart skipping a beat or beating faster or slower for no apparent reason, your doctor may recommend treatment.
  • Medicines — If you’ve been prescribed medication for high blood pressure or cholesterol, diabetes or heart disease, follow your doctor’s instructions to the letter. All of these conditions are major risk factors for stroke.

Unfortunately, while you can do much to reduce stroke risk, there’s no way yet to totally eliminate it. So if you ever do need our stroke care — if you experience any of the signs above — know that St. Clair Hospital has been certified by The Joint Commission to provide the next generation of stroke care. And we’re constantly working to maintain and surpass the highest standards of stroke care in Pittsburgh. To learn more about St. Clair stroke care, visit stclair.org/stroke.

Maria Abraham, MPAS, PA-C Director, Neuroscience Service Line, St. Clair Hospital

 

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/stroke/symptoms-causes/syc-20350113

CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/healthy_living.htm

St. Clair: https://www.stclair.org/services/az-listing/stroke-care/