World Stroke Day is a great opportunity to get up-to-date on the symptoms of stroke, who’s at risk and lifestyle changes that can reduce the risk of stroke.
Stroke, an injury in the brain that occurs after blood flow in the brain is blocked or a when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures, is the fifth leading cause of death in America. It’s also a major cause of brain damage. If you think you’re having a stroke, call 911 immediately, because treatments are most effective if they’re given as soon as possible.
Who’s at Risk for Stroke
People over 55 have a greater chance of stroke, and the risk increases as you age. People with high blood pressure or diabetes are most at risk for stroke. According to the American Heart Association, about 6.6 million people who have had strokes are alive today.
Signs and Symptoms of Stroke
Signs of stroke include:
— Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.
— Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
— Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
— Sudden trouble walking or loss of balance.
— Severe headache with no known cause.
If these symptoms only last a few minutes, it’s still cause for concern. TIAs, or transient ischemic attacks, are “warning strokes” that can happen before a major stroke. TIAs happen when a blood clot clogs an artery for a short time but then passes. Don’t ignore these warning; seek care before a major stroke occurs.
If any of these stroke symptoms appear, it’s important to take immediate action and get to a hospital right away. Immediate treatment can minimize the damage caused by a stroke, and thanks to recent advances in stroke treatment, recovery rates and survival rates have improved greatly over the last few years.
To help you remember the major signs of stroke, remember the acronym “FAST,” which stands for: Face, Arms, Speech, Time. If you think someone is having a stroke, observe their face for any drooping, their arms for numbness or weakness on one side and their speech for slurring or strange words. If any of these changes are present, it might be as stroke, so call 911 right away and note the time of the first symptom; this information is valuable to medical professionals as they decide the best course of treatment.
The medicine called t-PA (tissue plasminogen activator or Alteplase) is the only Food and Drug Administration-approved medicine for stroke. It works by unclogging arteries which restores blood flow to the area of brain being deprived. This medication improves the chances of getting better faster and can be given within three hours of the start of symptoms (or within four and half hours for certain people).
If a major blood vessel of the brain is blocked, there is an effective procedure called mechanical thrombectomy, a recent advancement in treatment options. During this minimally invasive procedure, a specially trained doctor uses a device called a stent retriever, which allows the doctor to remove the blood clot and restore blood flow to the brain. Restoring blood flow quickly minimizes brain damage that can cause permanent disability. This treatment works best if done within six hours of the start of symptoms, but in certain conditions, it may be beneficial up to 24 hours after onset.
Mechanical thrombectomy and t-PA are effective treatments for the kind of stroke caused by a blockage of blood flow to the brain, usually by a blood clot, which accounts for more than 85 percent of all strokes.
The other kind of stroke occurs when a weakened blood vessel in the brain ruptures and causes bleeding. This kind of stroke accounts for 15 percent of all strokes and treatment options aim to stop the bleeding which usually requires blood pressure management or surgery to relieve pressure or fix an aneurysm (a weakened spot in an artery).
While treatment for stroke has advanced and can be effective, preventing a stroke from happening in the first place is best. There are a number of things you can do to reduce the risk of having a stroke, including the following:
— Controlling blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes is key. If you need medications to keep these conditions under control, take them! The pills don’t do anything for you if they just sit in the medicine cabinet.
— Maintain a healthy diet that’s low in saturated fat, trans fat, minimizing processed food with added sugars and salt.
— Being physically active, which helps reach and maintain a healthy body weight.
More from U.S. News