Sally woke up on the kitchen floor unable to move her right side. She was unable to call out for help, and it was hours before her daughter found her. The next thing she knew she was in a hospital. Sally was only 60 years old the day she learned that she had had a stroke.
The signs of stroke can be decisive and dramatic like Sally’s or subtle. Stroke can happen at any age, and 800,000 people suffer from stroke each year. In fact, stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the US and the leading cause of adult disability.
It is important to recognize symptoms of a stroke quickly. The faster one receives medical attention, the better the prognosis for recovery. The National Stroke Association notes that “For each minute a stroke goes untreated and blood flow to the brain continues to be blocked, a person loses about 1.9 million neurons.” Neurons are specialized cells designed to transmit information to muscles, nerve cells and gland cells.
What is a Stroke?
A stroke is a sudden lack of blood flow to an area of the brain.
There are three types of stroke:
- Hemorrhagic – a brain aneurysm burst or blood vessel leak. This type is often fatal.
- Ischemic – a blood vessel carrying blood to the brain is blocked by a blood clot or plaque.
The two types of Ischemic Stroke are:
a. Embolic – a blood clot somewhere in the body travels to the brain,
b. Thrombotic – a blood clot forms in one of the arteries supplying the blood to the brain.
- Transient Ischemic – blood flow is restricted to an area of the brain for a short period of time.
What Causes a Stroke?
87% of all strokes are ischemic strokes with high blood pressure the leading risk factor. 15% of embolic strokes occur in people with atrial fibrillation. Thrombotic stroke is usually seen in people with high blood cholesterol levels and atherosclerosis. “Stroke risk can be higher in some families than in others, and your chances of having a stroke can go up or down depending on your age, sex, and race or ethnicity.”
Recognizing the Signs of Stroke
Stroke symptoms and signs include:
- Sudden numbness or weakness on one side of the body or of the face, arms or leg.
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking and/or understanding.
- Sudden vision problems in one or both eyes.
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
What these symptoms all have in common is the SUDDEN onset of the symptom, or symptoms that indicate a stroke is underway.
Strokes can be Prevented
By making certain lifestyle changes sooner than later, you can help reduce your risk for a stroke. A few ways to prevent a stroke include:
- Improve Nutrition Habits – Eat a healthy diet low in saturated and trans fats and high in whole grains, lean protein, fruits and vegetables. Refrain from eating processed, fried, or high fat foods. Choose foods low in salt, and don’t add salt when cooking or at the table.
- Get Regular Exercise – At least five days per week, incorporate physical activity into your daily routine. For adults of all ages, including those 65 and over, the CDC reports that two hours and 30 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise like brisk walking or dancing is ideal. Or, try 75 minutes of vigorous activity like running, as long as your joints are healthy enough for a high impact exercise. Plus, incorporate 2 hours of strength/muscle training. The CDC has some great recommendations on physical activity, and make sure to check with your doctor before you begin any exercise routine.
- Lose Weight – Obesity and the complications from obesity increases one’s risk for stroke. Your body mass index should be 25 or below. If you are overweight, losing as little as 10 pounds can significantly lower your risk for a stroke.
- Eliminate Unhealthy Habits – Keep alcohol consumption to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. Smoking doubles the risk of stroke, so if you smoke, it’s time to quit. No smoking of any product is advised for stroke prevention.
Recovery and Rehabilitation from Stroke
The goal of rehabilitation for stroke is to help you learn the skills lost, or learn new ways to accomplish tasks after stroke has impeded the blood flow to parts of the brain causing brain damage where functions occur. A combination of physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy, emotional therapy and medications may be utilized in the process of rehabilitation. For more information about what may be involved in stroke rehabilitation and new experimental therapies visit the MayoClinic.org.
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