With strokes affecting about 795,000 people a year, being the fifth cause of death in the United States, and showing to be a major cause of serious disability for adults, it’s vital to understand how to detect symptoms of a stroke and know how to better prevent them, for you or your loved ones.
Joining the Good Things Utah studio, Intermountain Healthcare Neurologist Dr. Megan Donohue and former stroke patient Raechal Carron talked about the gravity of strokes, and how to best prevent them.
Dr. Donohue said essentially, a stroke is a “brain attack.” It can happen to anyone at any time, no matter the age. To put it simply, a stroke occurs when blood flow to part of the brain suddenly stops. It can happen because of a blood clot that blocks a blood vessel (known as an ischemic stroke), or because a blood vessel in your brain bursts (known as a hemorrhagic stroke).
And for every second blood flow is interrupted following a stroke, tens of thousands of brain cells die. If, however, appropriate treatment is given within 90 minutes from the time a patient arrives at the hospital, research shows that patients have better outcomes and lower risk of disability. In fact, Dr. Donohue said “time is brain.” The more rapidly a stroke is attended to, the more likely the patient will have a positive outcome.
Most people assume that people over the age of 65 are the only likely stroke candidates. When really, young people get strokes, too. Though it’s rare, the number of young stroke victims is increasing and it now ranks as one of the top 10 causes of death in children in the United States.
Additionally, a stroke is more common in women than men–and women of all ages are more likely to die of a stroke than men. So listen up, women. Let’s talk risk factors.
Particular Risk Factors for Women Include:
- Giving birth after age 40. This brings a 1.4 percent higher lifetime risk for having an ischemic stroke and a .5 percent higher risk for a hemorrhagic stroke.
- Obese or overweight women taking birth control pills raises the risk for a rare type of stroked called cerebral venous thrombosis (CVT).
- Women, especially younger women, who have migraines with visual symptoms (called “aura”) are at higher stroke risk by 2.4 times.
- Migraines are also a red flag indicating higher stroke risk for older (menopausal) women who take hormone replacements.
In addition to knowing whether you’re at higher risk for a stroke, Dr. Donohue shared common signs and symptoms of a stroke to be mindful of. She also shared an acronym that can be used to determine whether you’re showing signs of a stroke. It’s called BE FAST. The letters stand for:
- B: Balance–sudden dizziness or loss of balance or coordination
- E: Eyes–sudden trouble seeing through one or both eyes
- F: Face–sudden weakness of the face (is one side of your face drooping?)
- A: Arm–weakness of an arm or leg
- S: Speech–sudden difficulty speaking
- T: Time–what time did the symptoms start?
If you or a loved one are showing possible signs of a stroke, it’s crucial to call 911 and seek medical attention immediately. Even if you are showing just one of the signs, don’t think about it–just call. To prepare for the possible situation, know all the warning signs and symptoms, don’t delay treatment, and take symptoms seriously.
Dr. Donohue also suggested that many of the risk factors as previously mentioned can be controlled or even eliminated. Here’s how.
Lower Your Stroke Risk:
- Stop smoking. Quitting now will drastically improve your health both now and in the future. It will lower your risk of having a stroke, plus lower your risk of many other serious medical conditions.
- Maintain a healthy weight. This will help you control your blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes–and lower your chance of heart disease and stroke. Talk to your doctor or dietitian about how to lose weight safely, slowly, and permanently.
- Exercise. Physical activity really does protect your heart, brain, and bones. Plus, it makes you stronger, gives you more energy, and helps you to cope with daily stress. If you can aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of your week, you’ll be in good shape. Even if those 30 minutes are broken up into regular parts of your day like choosing the stairs over the elevator, walking your dog, etc., it will still count.
- Visit your doctor regularly. Don’t brush this tip off. Your doctor is a professional who can check for “silent” risk factors like high blood pressure. If your physician finds anything abnormal, they can help you properly manage any chronic illness such as diabetes.
For more information on stroke treatment and prevention, go to intermountainhealthcare.org.
This story includes sponsored content.