Strokes are one of the leading causes of death in America, and kill over 129,000 people each year. This May, which is Stroke Awareness Month, it’s important to learn how strokes affect the brain, what symptoms they cause and how to reduce your chances of experiencing a stroke.
What is a Stroke?
A stroke is often called a “brain attack” because the brain experiences a rapid die off of cells. The cells begin to die due to blood clots that block arteries or blood vessels that carry blood in and out of the brain. Without blood, those cells begin to die off. Depending on where the stroke happens, a patient could lose the ability to speak, move a certain part of their body or recall memories.
The size and severity of a stroke will determine the severity of the damage. For example, a smaller stroke may just harm a person’s ability to move a limb, while a more severe stroke will cause death. More than 2/3 of stroke survivors experience ongoing complications.
These complications can include:
- Paralysis on one side of the body.
- Difficulty with basic thinking, awareness and memory.
- Inability to pay attention or learn new things.
- Problems with speech.
- Difficulty expressing emotions.
- Ongoing numbness in the extremities or the face.
- Foot or hand pain.
Contrary to popular belief, strokes don’t just happen to older people. In fact, 1/4 of all strokes occur in patients before the age of 65.
What Does a Stroke Look Like?
In a stroke situation, getting immediate medical help is key. The earlier a patient can see a doctor or professional, the better their chances are for recovery.
If you see anyone with these symptoms, call for emergency help:
- Numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg – particularly if it’s only on one side.
- Difficulty speaking.
- Sudden confusion or trouble understanding what is being said.
- Difficulty with walking, balance and coordination.
- Intense headaches without cause.
Or also known as – F.A.S.T.
How to Help Prevent Strokes
Your family history of stroke can make this type of attack more likely. Your gender and ethnicity may also play a factor. More women than men experience strokes each year, and African-Americans are at a higher risk than any other ethnic group.
But beyond these factors, there are certain behaviors and health choices that may increase your risk for a stroke. By incorporating these tips, you may be able to reduce the chances that you’ll experience a stroke:
- Quit smoking – When you smoke, you thicken your blood and increase the plaque buildup in your arteries. The blood vessels going to your brain are also damaged. As you can imagine, this makes it easier for a stroke-causing clot to form.
- Decrease your alcohol intake – Several studies have shown the links between alcohol use and stroke. Keep your alcohol consumption in check by having no more than two drinks per day – if at all.
- Ask your doctor about aspirin therapy – Some adults benefit from a daily aspirin to keep their blood thinner. But don’t start the regimen without speaking to your doctor first.
- Lower your blood pressure – Elevated blood pressure is the cause of over half of the world’s stroke deaths. By lowering your blood pressure, you’re also reducing your risk of heart attack. Eating right, exercising and avoiding smoking can keep your blood pressure in check.
- Manage your cholesterol – Cholesterol is manufactured by the body, but it also comes in through food. When your cholesterol levels are too high, you can increase your chances for clogged arteries and stroke.
- Control diabetes – If you have diabetes, you’re at an increased risk for stroke. Follow your doctor’s suggestions for diet, exercise and overall lifestyle changes.
By paying attention to the risk factors, knowing the warning signs and taking steps to improve your overall health, you can prevent or treat a stroke.