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Act Fast Against Stroke

Act Fast Against Stroke

stroke awareness prevention graphic

Imagine you’re standing at the kitchen sink, cleaning dishes and silverware from the delicious family meal you just enjoyed, and suddenly you’re unable to feel or move your arm. When you turn to tell your family that something is wrong, you realize that you can’t speak. This is what a stroke feels like.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, someone in the U.S. has a stroke every 40 seconds, and every 4 minutes someone dies of a stroke. Strokes kill about 140,000 Americans each year—that’s about 1 out of every 20 deaths. The good news? About 80 percent of strokes are preventable.

What is a Stroke?

There are three different types of stroke:

About 87 percent of all stroke cases are ischemic, or blood clots. This occurs when a blood vessel supplying blood to the brain is obstructed. These fatty deposits can cause two types of blockages: cerebral thrombosis that develops at the clogged part of the vessel, or cerebral embolism that forms at another location altogether, often in the heart and large arteries of the upper chest and neck.

A hemorrhagic stroke, or bleed, accounts for about 13 percent of all stroke cases. These result from a weakened vessel that ruptures and bleeds inside of the brain, which then accumulates and compresses the surrounding brain tissue. There are two types of events that cause these weakened blood vessels: an aneurysm, or the ballooning of a weakened region of a blood vessel that if left untreated continues to weaken until it ruptures and bleeds into the brain, or an arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which is a cluster of abnormally formed blood vessels that can rupture and cause bleeding in the brain.

A TIA is a temporary blockage of blood flow to the brain. It might not seem like a big deal, but if left untreated it may lead to a full-blown stroke. TIAs are often called “mini-strokes” because they’re small and relatively nonthreatening. The clot may dissolve on its own, or it may get dislodged or the blood flow restores and stops causing symptoms. Regardless, TIAs are an important warning sign that may lead to additional problems, including greater strokes. About a third of U.S. adults have had symptoms consistent with a TIA.

Are You at Risk for Stroke?

Did you know there are some risk factors for stroke that you can control, treat, and improve on your own, and others you can’t control at all? When you know the risk factors for stroke, you can begin to recognize when these occur and make changes now that can impact what happens to your body later.

What are the Risk Factors?

The following risk factors are not controllable, but being alert and aware to them is still important—and could help you to mitigate the factors that are within your control. Uncontrollable stroke risk factors include:

  • Age 55 and Over. The likelihood of stroke nearly doubles every 10 years after age 55. Strokes are more common in elderly folks, but people under 65, including babies and children, can sometimes have a stroke, too.
  • Family History of Stroke. If anyone in your family has had a stroke—especially if they’re under the age of 65—you could be at higher risk. Some genetic disorders like CADASIL can block blood flow in the brain and cause a stroke.
  • Gender. Each year, women have more strokes than men, and stroke kills more women than men, too. Factors like pregnancy, history of preeclampsia/eclampsia or gestational diabetes, birth control pills, and post-menopausal hormone therapy may increase stroke risks for women.
  • Prior Stroke, TIA, or Heart Attack. A person who’s had a prior stroke has a much higher risk of having another stroke than a person who has not had one. TIAs and prior heart attacks may also contribute to blockages in the brain that cause strokes.
  • Race. Studies show that African-Americans, Hispanics, and Latinos have a higher risk of death from stroke; often related to higher risks of high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. To learn more about minority health, check out American Heart Association’s EmPOWERED to Serve program.

However, even if you don’t have any of these stroke risk factors, you could still experience a stroke. Luckily, additional risk factors are within your control—and about 80 percent of all strokes are preventable. Schedule regular checkups and treatment with your primary care physician to help you manage and improve these conditions:

  • Atrial Fibrillation (AFib). This heart rhythm disorder increases stroke risks fivefold! It causes the heart’s upper chambers to beat inadequately, allowing the blood pool and clot to travel to the brain and cause a stroke. If you have AFib or could be at risk for AFib, speak to your physician immediately.
  • Carotid Artery Disease. Because carotid arteries are located so close to the brain, they may cause a stroke more easily when they become blocked by a blood clot.
  • Diabetes. If you have Type 1 or 2 diabetes, keep your blood sugar levels in check. Many people with diabetes also have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and are overweight. This increases their risk even more.
  • High Blood Cholesterol. Large amounts of cholesterol in the blood can build up and cause blood clots, leading to a stroke. Low cholesterol is also a risk factor for stroke in men.
  • High Blood Pressure. Know your numbers—and keep them low. High blood pressure is the No. 1 cause of stroke, but it’s also the most significant controllable risk factor. The American Heart Association offers wonderful information on changes you can make to manage high blood pressure.
  • Lack of Physical Activity. Get moving—take a brisk walk, opt for the stairs instead of the elevator, and take small steps to be more active every day. Physical inactivity can increase your risk for obesity, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease, all risk factors of stroke.
  • Obesity. Losing as little as 5 to 10 pounds can make a significant difference in your risk for stroke. If you’ve struggled with weight control all your life, start by making small steps to manage your weight and lower your risks, like nutrition counseling or adult weight loss programs.
  • Other Heart Disease. People with coronary heart disease or heart failure are at higher risk of stroke than people with healthy hearts. Dilated cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart), heart valve disease, and certain types of congenital heart defects can also increase your risk.
  • Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD). PAD is the narrowing of blood vessels carrying blood to leg and arm muscles. It’s caused by fatty buildups of plaque in artery walls.
  • Poor Diet. To prevent stroke, eat foods proven to improve heart and brain health. Reduce foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and salt, and eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
  • Sickle Cell Disease. This treatable genetic disorder mostly affects African-American and Hispanic children. “Sickled” red blood cells tend to stick to blood vessel walls, which can block arteries to the brain and cause a stroke.
  • Smoking. The nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke damage the cardiovascular system, making it easier for stroke to strike. When combined with birth control pills, cigarette smoking can greatly increase the stroke.

Studies show certain other factors may be linked to higher stroke risks. For example, strokes are more common in the southeastern United States (also known as the “stroke belt”) than other areas. Whether your risks are treatable or 100% outside of your control, making healthy changes and consulting with your primary care physician the moment something doesn’t feel right can prevent a stroke from ever occurring.

How to Respond When Someone Suffers a Stroke

If you or someone around you shows signs of suffering a stroke, it’s important to act FAST. This suitable acronym is an easy way to remember the signs of a potential stroke. Just use the letters in FAST to spot the signs of a stroke and know when it’s urgent to call 911.

  • Face Drooping. Does one side of the face droop, or is it numb? When smiling, is the person’s smile uneven or lopsided?
  • Arm Weakness. Is one arm weak or numb? Raise both arms—does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech Difficulty. Is speech impaired or slurred? Is the person unable to speak or understand when spoken to? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “My name is Tom.” Is the person able to correctly repeat the words?
  • Time to Call for Help. If you or someone around you is experiencing any of these symptoms, call 911 right away. Let the dispatcher know immediately that it may be stroke, so the hospital and doctors are ready to respond. Time is important! Don’t delay in calling—call immediately when the first signs appear.

At times, other stroke symptoms may appear—sometimes separately, sometimes in combination with other FAST signs. If you or someone around you shows any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately (it’s better to be safe and sure):

  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm, or leg—especially on one side of the body only
  • Sudden severe headache
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination

Even if you’re unsure if it’s truly a stroke, call 911 immediately anyway if any of these signs are present. Don’t wait! Like the acronym says, acting FAST to receive medical attention and treatment leads to better chances of recovery.

Have You Had a Stroke? Prevent a Second One.

Up to 80 percent of second clot-related strokes are entirely preventable—but that depends on how FAST you act to prevent them. If you’ve previously suffered a stroke, follow these eight steps to prevent another one:

  • Don’t smoke.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Get active.
  • Keep your cholesterol under control.
  • Lose weight, if recommended by your doctor.
  • Maintain a healthy blood sugar.
  • Monitor your blood pressure.
  • Talk to your doctor about aspirin and other medications.

Act FAST to Support Stroke Prevention and Treatment

If you or someone you know may be suffering a stroke, contact Frederick Memorial Hospital immediately. Frederick Health is proud to be a designated Primary Stroke Center by the Maryland Institute of Emergency Medical Service Systems (MIEMSS). We were awarded the 2017 Target Stroke Honor Roll and the Get With the Guidelines (GWTG) Gold Plus Achievement Award by the American Heart Association for continued success in patient care.

The stroke team at Frederick Health is ready 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to care for you with:

  • Renowned neurosurgeons and neurologists
  • State-of-the-art technology for diagnosis and treatment
  • Multidisciplinary team trained in stroke care

We also offer a stroke support group the second Tuesday of every month at Frederick Health Crestwood from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. where stroke survivors, their caregivers, and loved ones can discuss real-life issues after stroke and learn more from one another’s experiences. New members are always welcome. Visit our website to learn more.