(ABC4 Utah) According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), someone in the U.S. has a stroke every 40 seconds. Every four minutes, someone dies of a stroke. Every year, more than 795,000 people in the U.S. have a stroke and about 610,000 of these are first or new strokes. Also, stroke is the leading cause of serious long-term disability and reduces mobility in more than half of stroke survivors aged 65 and over. Despite these harrowing statistics, strokes are entirely preventable through making healthy choices and controlling other health conditions.

Dr. Christopher Valentine, a medical director with Optum Utah joined us to help understand the signs and symptoms of stroke, risk factors, and health habits.

What is a stroke and what causes it?

  • A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is blocked or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. These events can quickly damage brain cells and lead to the symptoms that we associate with a stroke (see below).
  • There are two types of strokes:
    • Ischemic: occurs when blood vessels to the brain are blocked by blood clots. Clots usually occur in blood vessels whose walls have deposits of fatty deposits known as plaque. Clots from other parts of the body can also travel to the blood vessels that serve brain tissue.
    • Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts causing bleeding which leads to tissue damage.
  • A stroke is an emergency that requires immediate care. As a rule, the greater the treatment delay, the more brain tissue is lost. That’s why it’s important to call 911 right away if you or someone you are with shows any signs of stroke.

What are the signs or symptoms of a stroke?

  • Some of the most common signs of a stroke include:
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden numbness or weakness in the face or arms and legs – especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden trouble walking including a lack of coordination or balance
  • Sudden severe headache
  • Sudden trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • If you or anyone around you is experiencing these symptoms, call 911 right away
  • Use the letters F.A.S.T. to Spot a Stroke:
    • F (Face) – By asking the person to smile, you can determine whether one side of their face is drooping
    • A (Arms) – Ask the person to raise both of their arms to determine there is difficulty moving one side (e.g., one arm is drifting downward)
    • S (Speech) – Have the person repeat a simple phrase and determine whether their speech is normal. Often, the speech of a stroke victim is slurred.
    • T (Time) – If you notice any of these signs, it’s time to call 911

Can people recover from strokes?

  • People can recover from a stroke, but the timing and degree of recovery can vary due to many factors. The recovery period can range from weeks to many months. While some people can fully recover, others may have limited recovery and be left with long-term disabilities.
  • The rehabilitation options one can take after a stroke depends on many variables, the most important of which is the stroke’s severity. The most common options include:
    • Physical therapy – incorporates exercises that help relearn movement and coordination skills that may have been lost due to the stroke. The focus is on improving the level of function.
    • Speech therapy – assists people who have issues understanding or producing speech
    • Occupational therapy – focuses on improving daily activities, such as eating, drinking, dressing, bathing, reading, or writing

What are some ways to prevent a stroke?

  • The good news about stroke is that 4 in 5 strokes are preventable.
  • According to the CDC, once you’ve had a stroke, you are at high risk for another stroke.
    • One in four strokes each year are recurrent
    • The chance of stroke within 90 days of a TIA may be as high as 17 percent, with the greatest risk during the first week.
  • That’s why it’s important to treat some of the causes of stroke, including diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation (fast or irregular heartbeat), and heart disease.
  • It is also important to incorporate healthy behaviors into your lifestyle.
    • Work with your doctor to determine whether you need to change your diet,
    • incorporate exercise,
    • begin medication,
    • or adopt any other healthy lifestyle habits such as the avoidance of tobacco products.
    • Surgery can also be helpful depending on the circumstances.

For more information, visit the Optum website or call (866)637-5268.


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