Stroke Awareness and Prevention

Thinking about the possibility of a stroke makes most of us feel powerless. However, today’s researchers, after assessing hundreds of studies, are confident that we are not powerless — most strokes can be prevented.

What is a stroke?

A stroke happens when the normal flow of blood to the brain is interrupted. This is caused either by blocked blood vessels or arteries, or by bleeding in the brain. When the blood flow is stopped, brain cells in the area affected begin to die within minutes, and permanent damage or even death can occur.

Although a stroke can be a devastating event, prompt medical treatment can save a person’s life and improve the chances for a successful recovery.

If you know the warning signs you could save a life.

Stroke warning signs include any sudden, unexplained incidence of:

  • numbness or weakness (especially on one side)
  • trouble talking or understanding speech
  • dimness or loss of vision
  • severe headache or dizziness
  • unusual clumsiness or falls

If you — or anyone you are with — experiences any of these symptoms, treat this as an emergency! Call 911 and your doctor immediately.

Sometimes a stroke is preceded by a transient ischemic attack (referred to as a TIA or “mini-stroke”), where any of the symptoms above may only last for a few moments. Much like the foreshock to a major earthquake, a TIA must be taken seriously. Whether it’s a stroke or a TIA, call your doctor right away.

Prevention is your best weapon against stroke.

Researchers believe that most deaths from stroke can be prevented. Here are the key risk factors you can minimize by taking good care of your health:

  • high blood pressure
  • cigarette smoking
  • heart disease
  • high cholesterol
  • excessive weight or alcohol use
  • any cocaine use

Here are some risk factors that can’t be controlled:

  • History: personal or family history of stroke or TIA
  • Age: risk increases with age
  • Race: African Americans have a higher risk than other groups

In addition to making lifestyle changes, people diagnosed with heart conditions or hardening of the arteries may benefit from prescription drugs or preventive procedures to lower their stroke risk. By seeing your doctor for regular checkups, you can get help with assessing and reducing your risk.

What causes a stroke?

There are several types of strokes. Most strokes (70-80 percent) are caused by blood clots that block one of the arteries carrying blood to the brain. Often these clots form in arteries hardened by fatty deposits called plaque, or are caused by a heart condition called atrial fibrillation. These are the most preventable types of strokes.

Other types of strokes are caused by hemorrhages, which occur when blood vessels in the head break and bleed. They are much less common than strokes caused by clots but have a higher mortality rate. Hemorrhages can result from a head injury or from abnormal swelling due to uncontrolled high blood pressure or a weak spot in an artery wall (an aneurysm).

Surviving a stroke.

Strokes affect their survivors in different ways, depending on the severity of the stroke and the area of the brain affected. Brain injury from a stroke can affect speech, vision, memory, emotions, the ability to think clearly, or movement and feeling in arms and legs. Paralysis or weakness on one side of the body is common.

Although some people recover completely from minor strokes, a stroke is a frightening and often life-changing experience. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in America, and the number one cause of adult disability.

Take action today to reduce your risk.

If you want to work toward a healthier lifestyle, you don’t have to do it alone. Simi Valley Hospital can help. Please call our us at (805) 955-6890 to find out about our free and low-cost health classes. We can also help you find a physician; just call Referral Services at (805) 955-6900.

Note: This is for information purposes only and not intended for use in place of the advice of a physician.

SOURCES: National Stroke Association; American Heart Association; Harvard Health Letter, Feb. 1996