Preventative Steps to Lower Your Risk of a Stroke

Posted: May 2012

On average, someone suffers a new or recurrent stroke every 40 seconds and someone dies of a stroke every 3.1 minutes.  Stroke is a leading cause of serious, long-term disability in the U.S., with approximately 4.7 million stroke survivors alive today.

Did you know that 85 percent of all strokes are preventable?  May is National Stroke Awareness Month, so I encourage you to recognize the signs of a stroke and learn what to do to help prevent one – especially if you or a loved one are at risk for a stroke.

A stroke is an actual brain attack in which blood and oxygen to brain cells are cut off.  An attack could affect one’s ability to speak, walk and breathe. Often, arteries are blocked by blood clots, plaque or fatty deposit build-up, which causes arteries to rupture due to weakened walls of blood vessels. 

Symptoms of a stroke include numbness, or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side; confusion; trouble speaking or understanding; trouble seeing in one or both eyes; difficulty walking; dizziness; loss of balance or coordination; severe headache with no known cause.

Once stroke symptoms begin, there’s a four-and-a-half-hour window in which the patient must be medically treated before risking irreparable damage to the brain. At the onset of symptoms, call 911 immediately.  Never take aspirin when having a stroke as one cannot tell from symptoms alone whether the stroke is ischemic (clot related and the most common type of stroke) or hemorrhagic (bleed related).  Importantly, note what time the stroke symptoms began and gather a list of your medications.

Risk factors – those who are over age 55, a male, who are African-American, Pacific/Islander or Hispanic, diagnosed with diabetes, or have a family history of stroke. If you have one of these risk factors, create a preventative plan of action to help prevent a stroke.  Include a heart-healthy diet, exercise and be screened for high blood pressure, cholesterol (total cholesterol and HDL) and carotid bruits. See your primary care physician to develop a plan that’s best for you.

Usually, there are five types of disabilities caused by stroke – paralysis or problems controlling movement – walking or balance and/or swallowing – the ability to feel touch, pain, temperature, or position; difficulty using or understanding language; thinking and memory problems; emotional disturbances. Stroke rehabilitation may help one to recover from the effects of stroke, relearn skills, and develop new ways to perform tasks.

Primary Stroke Centers have developed excellent protocols for fast, effective treatment, which can significantly improve patient outcomes. Updated on the latest treatments, these Centers are certified by The Joint Commission – the oldest and largest health care standards-setting and accrediting organization in the U.S. – for undergoing an on-site evaluation and demonstrating compliance with nationally developed standards.

There are some risk factors one can change and some that cannot be changed.  By reducing one’s modifiable risk factors for stroke – tobacco use, elevated cholesterol, elevated blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and obesity – one can help prevent a stroke.

By David Rengachary, MD, board-certified neurologist, is on staff at Missouri Baptist Medical Center.  Dr. Rengachary serves on the hospital’s Stroke Certification Committee.  For a referral, call 314-996-LIFE.

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