Get to Know More About Stroke

General, Stroke Steward Health Care

Warning Signs of Stroke and Ways to Help Prevent Stroke

As the COVID-19 pandemic grew across the country last year, one thing that stood out to many health care providers: the absence of stroke patients who went to the Emergency Room to seek the care they needed. May is National Stroke Awareness Month and Steward Medical Group would like to encourage anyone who may be experiencing stroke-like symptoms to seek emergency care immediately.

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and the leading cause of disability.  A stroke happens every 40 seconds and someone dies every 4 minutes from a stroke.  After a stroke you may have to relearn the most basic things in your life.

“A stroke is sometimes referred to as a brain attack much in the same way as a myocardial infarction is referred to as a heart attack,” said Anna Hohler, MD, FAAN, a Steward Medical Group physician who serves as the Chair of Neurology at the Steward hospital where she works. “Stroke is a disease that affects the blood vessels leading to and within the brain.  A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts. Without an adequate supply of oxygen, brain cells die.”

When a person experiences a stroke, when blood flow is unable to reach a certain part of the brain that controls a certain body function, that part of the body won’t work as it should.  The effects of a stroke depend on the location of the brain that is affected as well as how much brain tissue is involved.

“Every stroke is unique, but strokes tend to affect people in common ways.  Some of these ways is how well your body is able to move or feel, how well you can see, and how well you are able to communicate,” said Dr. Hohler.

Warning Signs of Stroke

The common symptoms of a stroke are represented in the acronym F.A.S.T.

F: Face Drooping (someone suffering from a stroke may have a hard time lifting one side of their mouth when asked to smile)

A: Arm weakness: Is one arm weak or numb?  Ask the person to raise both arms.  Does one arm drift downward?

S: Speech difficulty: Is speech slurred?  Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence

T: Time to call 911? If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if they go away, call 911 and get them to the hospital immediately.

Many people are familiar with F.A.S.T. as a way to be aware of signs of stroke but other symptoms that are also concerning for a stroke are: sudden severe headache, sudden confusion, sudden trouble seeing, and sudden trouble walking.

Seeking medical attention quickly for someone who is having a stroke is vital. “Minutes can make a difference between brain cells that are saved and brain cells that are damaged forever,” said Dr. Hohler. “This is sometimes referred to as ‘Time is Brain.’ Time saved is brain saved.  Immediate treatment may minimize the long-term effects of a stroke and even prevent death.  Thanks to recent advances, stroke treatments and survival rates have improved greatly over the past decade.”

While recovery from a stroke can be a long journey, there is life and hope after a stroke, she said. “With time, new routines will become second nature. Rehabilitation can build strength, and confidence despite the effects of the stroke. Managing a patient’s risk factors can help prevent a future stroke.”

 Some risk factors for stroke can be changed or treated. They include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Certain blood disorders
  • Eating too much salt (sodium)
  • Stress
  • Overweight and obesity
  • Atrial Fibrillation or other heart disease
  • Physical inactivity
  • Carotid artery disease
  • Diabetes
  • Certain blood disorders
  • High cholesterol
  • Excessive alcohol intake
  • Smoking
  • Illegal drug use
  • Carotid artery disease
  • Sleep apnea

What are the risk factors for stroke that cannot be changed or treated?

Increased age: Stroke affects people of all ages but the older you are, the greater the stroke risk

Gender: Women have a higher lifetime risk of stroke than men do.

Heredity: People whose close blood relatives have had a stroke have a higher risk of stroke

Prior Strokes: Someone who has had a stroke is at higher risk of having another stroke

Tips to stay healthy and prevent a stroke:

  • Control your blood pressure: high blood pressure is a major risk factor, doubling your risk of stroke if it is not controlled. High blood pressure is the biggest contributor to the risk of stroke in men and women. If possible- Maintain a blood pressure of less than 120/80. Take any medications that your doctor prescribes to reduce your blood pressure
  • Eat well and maintain a healthy weight: Obesity, as well as factors linked to it (high blood pressure and diabetes) raises your risk of having a stroke.
    • Work with your doctor or dietician to determine a good weight goal
    • Reduce your intake of high calorie foods that are low in nutrients (junk food)
    • Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables
    • Eat smaller portions of meat and drink lots of water
  • Stay Active and Exercise: Exercise helps maintain a healthy weight, helps control blood pressure and helps manage stress. In addition, it stands alone as an independent risk reducer
    • Simple things like parking as far in the parking lot as possible can increase your daily activity.
    • Take the stairs instead of the elevator
    • Take a 30-minute walk daily
    • If you don’t have 30 minutes- try breaking it up into 10-15 min sessions
  • If you smoke, quit: Smoking accelerates clot formation in a couple of different ways. It thickens your blood, and it increases the amount of plaque buildup in the arteries.  Along with a healthy diet and regular exercise, smoking cessation is one of the most powerful lifestyle changes that will help reduce stroke risk significantly.
    • Ask your doctor for advice on the most appropriate way to quit
    • Don’t give up. Many smokers need several tries to quit. See each attempt as bringing you one step closer to successfully beating the habit

We encourage patients to work with their primary care physician and neurologist to reduce stroke risk factors for stroke prevention and stroke recovery.

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