Sometimes called a “brain attack,” stroke is currently the third leading cause of death in the United States, and the leading cause of disability. However, up to 80% of strokes could be prevented.
Causes of Stroke
A stroke is caused by an interruption in blood flow to the brain. There are two kinds of stroke:
· Ischemic stroke: When the artery is blocked by a blood clot or by build-up of plaque, the stroke is ischemic. Approximately 87% of strokes fall into this category.
· Hemorrhagic stroke: If a blood vessel in the brain breaks and leaks blood into the brain, the stroke is a hemorrhagic stroke. Although only 13% fall into this category, hemorrhagic strokes account for over 30% of stroke deaths.
Patients may experience a “mini-stroke” or transient ischemic attack (TIA) before they have a full-blown stroke. Chance of TIA increases with age, and about 40% of patients who have TIA eventually go on to have a stroke.
Risk Factors for Stroke
Medical factors that increase a patient’s risk of stroke include previous stroke or TIA, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, atrial fibrillation, and carotid artery disease. Many of these factors can be controlled with lifestyle choices. Patients can significantly reduce their risk of stroke with healthy lifestyle:
· Quit smoking. Smoking contributes to cardiopulmonary disease.
· Lose excess weight through healthy diet and regular exercise.
· Reduce or eliminate alcohol. Men should have no more than two drinks per day, and women should have no more than one per day.
Symptoms of Stroke
A stroke cuts off blood flow to the brain, so symptoms vary based on what portion of the brain is affected by the stroke. Common symptoms include the following:
· Sudden weakness or numbness in the arms, legs, or face, especially on only one side of the body
· Sudden severe headache with no identifiable cause
· Difficulty seeing out of one or both eyes
· Dizziness, trouble walking, or a loss of balance and coordination
· Sudden trouble speaking, confusion, or disorientation
If you suspect someone is having a stroke, remember the life saving acronym FAST:
· F=Face–ask the person to smile. If one side of the face appears crooked or drooping this person may be having a stroke
· A=Arms–ask the person to lift both of his or her arms in the air–if he or she has difficulty with one arm this too might be a sign that this person is having a stroke
· S=Speech–ask the person to speak. If his or her words are slurred or they are unable to speak, they might be having a stroke
· T=T is for time. If any of the above symptoms are present you must call 911 immediately in order to make sure that this person reaches the hospital FAST.