May is stroke awareness month and it highlights the importance of learning about a silent killer that strikes 800,000 Americans and takes 140,000 lives each year. What you know about stroke may save your life or the life of a loved one. Here are five things you need to know in order to prevent and detect strokes.
1. How to recognize a stroke
For years a national campaign has promoted the vital importance of recognizing the signs and symptoms of stroke. It can lead to immediate life saving treatment that can mitigate the impact of stroke. If a loved one suffers a stroke and loses the ability to speak, it will depend upon family members to recognize what is occurring and call 9-1-1 immediately.
The FAST acronym is the best and easiest way to learn about the signs and symptoms of stroke. It should be taught to all family members, including children who spend time with older loved ones.
FAST stands for face, arm, speech, time.
- F: Is the face drooping?
- A: Can the person lift both arms to an equal height?
- S: Is speech slurred or altered into nonsensical sentences like, “I want blue to down.”
- T: Time is of the essence. Call 9-1-1 immediately. Don’t wait to be sure. Call the moment you suspect something may be wrong
2. Symptoms of stroke occur suddenly
The symptoms of stroke do not occur slowly or build over time. They occur suddenly and without warning. The person who is suffering the stroke may experience sudden numbness or weakness on one side of the body in the face, arm or leg. They may also experience sudden confusion, lose the ability to speak or understand what others are saying. Other sudden symptoms of stroke may include:
- Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Trouble walking
- Dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Severe headache with no known cause
3, Time is of the essence to reduce stroke damage
If you suspect that someone is suffering a stroke, call 9-1-1 immediately and without delay. Stroke care delivered within the first three hours of the onset of symptoms is most effective in preventing long term damage. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states, “Patients who arrive at the emergency room within 3 hours of their first symptoms often have less disability three months after a stroke than those who received delayed care.”
It’s important to reiterate that treatment must be delivered within three hours of the onset of the very first symptoms, not three hours from the time the emergency responders arrive. Every single second is precious and you must get emergency help quickly. If you call 9-1-1 and it turns out your loved one was not suffering a stroke, don’t worry. The emergency responders and hospital staff would much rather be safe than sorry. They will be glad you exercised extreme caution and called to protect a loved one.
4. A stroke is an attack on the brain
The National Stroke Association (NSA) calls a stroke a “brain attack”. It can happen to any person at any time without warning. A stroke occurs when blood flow to an area of the brain is cut off and deprives brain cells of oxygen, causing them to die. As a result, brain functions controlled by those cells are lost, such as memory and muscle control.
There are two types of stroke:
- Ischemic stroke occurs when a blood vessel supplying the brain is blocked
- Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when there is bleeding into or around the brain. Only 15 percent of strokes are this type, but they cause 40 percent of stroke deaths
The extent of stroke damage depends on where in the brain the stroke occured, the type of stroke, and how quickly treatment was received. In some cases, the stroke may be very small and leave little or no damage. However, more than ⅔ rds of stroke survivors have some type of disability.
The most common adverse impact of stroke is complete paralysis on one side of the body. Other long term effects of stroke can include:
- One-sided weakness
- Problems with thinking, awareness, attention, learning, judgment, and memory
- Problems understanding speech
- Problems speaking, either forming words or speaking in nonsensical, jumbled words and sentences
- Difficulty controlling emotions
- Numbness or strange sensations
5. Up to 80 percent of strokes are preventable
Stroke is preventable if you know your risk factors and work to control them. Some risk factors like age, experiencing a previous stroke, and family history cannot be controlled. However, lifestyle habits like diet and exercise and medical conditions can be controlled and can reduce your risk of stroke.
- Eat a healthy diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables and select a rainbow of color. This will ensure that you get all the rich nutrients contained in whole fresh fruits as well as dark green, leafy vegetables. Make sure your diet includes whole grains, fish, and lean meats and poultry. Adding low fat dairy products including milk, cheese and yogurt (soy or other alternative milk products if you are lactose intolerant) will round out a healthy diet that will help protect against the risk of stroke.
- Find an activity you love and participate in it at least three times a week; daily if you can. It’s recommended that you get 30 minutes of exercise each day to keep your heart pumping and circulating fresh oxygen through your body. Adding light weight lifting makes the heart work and can help bones regenerate new, strong bone tissue. The more you promote overall health and fitness, the more your body can resist stroke and chronic diseases.
- Do not smoke. If you do smoke, quit. Smoking doubles the risk of stroke because according to the NSA, it “increases clot formation, thickens blood, and increases the amount of plaque buildup in the arteries.”
- Drink alcohol moderately. According the NSA, drinking in excess has been linked to a higher risk of stroke. The NSA recommends “no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women”.
- It is important to control medical conditions. Get regular checkups and keep tabs on these conditions and remain under a doctor’s care if necessary::
- High blood pressure and high cholesterol. High blood pressure is the number one cause of stroke. High cholesterol can block the arteries of the heart and cause stroke.
- AFib (atrial fibrillation) is an irregular heartbeat that allows blood to pool in the heart. That can cause clots to form and if they are carried to the brain it can cause a stroke.
When you know these five things about stroke, you can help to prevent the silent killer from striking. Educate your friends and family, teach them the FAST acronym, and together we can help to reduce the incidence of stroke and get rapid treatment for those who may experience one.
If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation. Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.
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