May is Stroke Awareness Month and according to the American Stroke Association, 80 percent of strokes may be preventable. Neighbors Emergency Center believes it’s essential you are fully informed on what a stroke is, steps to prevent a stroke and how to act F-A-S-T if you think someone is having a stroke.
What is a Stroke?
Simple…an attack on the brain. Blood vessels, carrying nutrients and oxygen to the brain, are either blocked by a blood clot or the blood clot has burst. This result is a lack of oxygen to the brain causing brain cells to be damaged or die.
Types of Strokes
Hemorrhagic Stroke is a weakened blood vessel leak known as a brain aneurysm. The result of this type of stroke is that blood leaks into and around the brain causing swelling and pressure damaging cells and brain tissue. There are two types of Hemorrhagic Strokes: 1) Intracerebral hemorrhage which is caused by a genetic condition, arteriovenous malformation, characterized by abnormal connections between arteries and veins in the brain or spine. 2) Subarachnoid hemorrhage involves bleeding in the subarachnoid space, an area between the brain and tissue covering the brain. This type of stroke is typically caused by a burst aneurysm, bleeding disorder, head injury or blood thinners.
Ischemic Strokes are the most common, accounting for 87% of all strokes. These types of strokes occur when blood vessels in the brain are blocked by a blood clot resulting in the lack of blood reaching the brain. Individuals with high blood pressure are at greater risk of experiencing an Ischemic stroke. Ischemic strokes are classified as either an embolic stroke or a thrombotic stroke. An embolic stroke occurs when a blood clot or a fragment of plaque, forms in the body, most likely in the heart, and travels to the brain causing a blockage in a small blood vessel. Thrombotic strokes occur when a blood clot forms inside an artery supplying blood to the brain. This type of Ischemic stroke occurs in people with high cholesterol and atherosclerosis.
Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) takes place when blood flow to part of the brain stops for a short period of time producing stroke-like symptoms typically lasting less than 24 hours. Generally, these attacks do not cause permanent brain damage but should be taken seriously as they are a warning sign. TIAs are normally caused by blood flow to a narrow artery in the brain, when a blood clot from another part of the body travels to the brain or narrowing of small blood vessels in the brain caused by fatty buildup of plaque.
Effects of a Stroke
The effects of a stroke depend on where specifically the stroke occurs in the brain, as well as how much damage the brain endures. While some people recover completely from strokes, about 2 out of 3 stroke survivors have some type of disability. For example, people who have a smaller stroke may only have minor problems, such as temporary leg or arm weakness, while people who have suffered larger strokes may be permanently paralyzed on one side of their body, or completely lose their ability to speak.
Medical Risk Factors
High Blood Pressure is the number one cause of strokes as it causes your heart to pump harder, which weakens your blood vessels and damages major organs, like the brain. People with high blood pressure have almost double the chance of having a stroke. The optimal blood pressure level is 120/80.
Atrial Fibrillation, or AFIB, is an irregular heartbeat which can occur at any age but is more common in people over 65. Individuals with high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease are susceptible to AFIB as well. Because AFIB allows blood to pool in the heart, it can form clots, which eventually can travel to the brain and cause a stroke. Treatment for AFIB can be done through medications or electrical stimulation.
High Cholesterol, excessive fatty substance found in the blood, leads to blockage of the arteries which impacts the flow of blood to the brain. It is recommended that your cholesterol be below 200 and can be controlled with healthy eating habits, physical activity or medication.
Diabetics are four times more likely to have a stroke. This is due to the risk factors often associated with diabetes such as high blood pressure, AFIB and high cholesterol. Diabetics must control their eating habits, monitor their medications and insulin shots and exercise.
Our lifestyle habits put us at risk of stroke as well. Exercise and eating a healthy diet full of vegetables, fruits and grains along while avoiding excess fats, sugars and sodium are key to maintaining a healthy weight. These things are important because excess weight makes people more likely to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, which can all increase your risk of stroke.
Smokers and tobacco users have double the risk of experiencing a stroke. When you smoke you increase clot formation and plaque build-up in the arteries and thicken the blood. Alcohol intake should also be limited as it has been linked to strokes in several studies. Drinking too much can increase your blood pressure, and ultimately the risk of stroke.
Using the acronym F-A-S-T is an easy way to determine the symptoms of a stroke. If you believe you, or someone is having a stroke, call 9-1-1 immediately. The faster someone receives treatment and gets to the hospital, the more likely they can have a better recovery.
F– Face- Ask the person to smile. Is one side of their face drooping?
A– Arms- Ask the person to raise both arms. Is this difficult for them? Does one arm drift downward?
S– Speech- Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is this difficult for them? Does their speech seem slurred?
T– Time- If these signs happen call 9-1-1!
Show your support for Stroke Awareness Month by sharing this article. If you do find yourself in need of emergency services, remember we have several Neighbors Emergency Center locations throughout Texas. Our board-certified physicians and state-of-the-art technology make it easy for us to care for your family’s medical emergencies.