Noyes News and Events

May 26, 2017

Stroke Awareness and Prevention

Stroke by the Numbers:

  • Stroke accounts for 1 of every 20 deaths in the US.
  • Stroke kills someone in the US about every 4 minutes.
  • Each year, about 795,000 people experience a new or recurrent stroke. Approximately 610,000 of these are first attacks, and 185,000 are recurrent attacks.
  • Stroke is a leading cause of serious long-term disability in the US. (source: heart.org)
  • 15% of all ischemic strokes (the most common type of stroke) now occur in adolescents and young adults.
  • There has been a 44% increase in stroke hospitalizations among young people over the last decade. (source:  stroke.org)


The numbers above are startling but none more than the last two that point out stroke is occurring at younger ages. Because strokes are often more disabling than fatal, the impact is particularly brutal to any young person who suffers a stroke. Many will suffer long-term disability or memory loss. Financial earnings over a lifetime and the ability to interact effectively with family and friends will often be severely diminished.  Understanding the risk factors, and warning signs is critical; however, the best-case scenario for everyone, young and old alike, is prevention.  

Stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted.   Blood carries oxygen and when the brain is deprived of blood rich oxygen, brain cells die.  In fact, nearly two million brain cells die each minute a stroke goes untreated.  There are two basic types of stroke:  ischemic and hemorrhagic.  87% of strokes are ischemic.  An ischemic stroke occurs when a clot or a mass blocks a blood vessel, cutting off blood flow to the brain.  A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a weakened blood vessel ruptures, spilling blood into the brain.   A TIA (transient ischemic attack) often called a “mini stroke” is a blockage but is it temporary.  TIAs look like a stroke but the symptoms usually last less than five minutes.  People are at risk for stroke primarily because of high blood pressure and obesity although there are other risk factors including smoking, atrial fibrillation, diabetes, stress, and a sedentary lifestyle.

According to the National Institutes for Health, 80% of strokes can be prevented.  This is because high blood pressure and weight can be controlled.  77% of people who have a first stroke have blood pressure higher than 140/90 mmHg; however, almost 20% of American adults with high blood pressure do not know they have it.   Knowing your blood pressure number is very important in the fight against stroke.  To maintain healthy blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke, physicians will often prescribe medications and advocate for a healthy lifestyle including weight management. 

A recent Harvard Health report states that controlling your weight is an important way to lower stroke risk. Excess pounds strain the entire circulatory system and can lead to health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and obstructive sleep apnea. Losing as little as 5% to 10% of your starting weight can lower your blood pressure and other stroke risk factors.  The authors make the following suggestions to lower your risk factors:

Move more.  Increase your everyday activity wherever you can — walking, fidgeting, pacing while on the phone, taking stairs instead of the elevator.

Skip the sipped calories. Sodas, lattes, sports drinks, energy drinks, and even fruit juices are packed with unnecessary calories.  Try unsweetened coffee or tea, or flavor your own sparkling water with a slice of lemon or lime, a sprig of fresh mint, or a few raspberries.

Eat more whole foods. If you eat more unprocessed foods — such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — you will feel full longer because these foods take longer to digest.  Plus, whole foods are full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber and tend to be lower in salt — which is better for your blood pressure, too.

Find healthier snacks. Snack time is many people's downfall — but you don't have to skip it as long as you snack wisely. Try carrot sticks as a sweet, crunchy alternative to crackers or potato chips, or air-popped popcorn (provided you skip the butter and salt and season it with your favorite spices instead).

Finally, recognizing the warning signs and calling 911 are crucial when it comes to limiting the severity of a stroke.  Literally, every minute counts.   Prompt treatment can save brain tissue and limit the severity of the stroke.   The American Stroke Association promotes the F.A.S.T. acronym to help people remember what to do:

  • F – FACE DROOPING –have the person smile – is one side drooping?
  • A – ARM WEAKNESS – have the person raise his or her arms – is one arm drifting down? (is one side of the body not responding or moving properly)
  • S – SPEECH DIFFICULTY – have the person repeat a phrase – is the speech slurred? Or is there difficulty in finding words?
  • T – TIME TO CALL 911 – call 911 IMMEDIATELY if you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms

  
To learn more about stroke prevention, symptoms, and treatment, go to: www.timeisbrainatnoyes.org or http://www.strokeassociation.org.  To test your stroke knowledge, take a quiz at: http://strokeheroquiz.org/. 

Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at Noyes Health in Dansville.  If you have questions or suggestions for future articles, she can be reached at lwichtowski@noyeshealth.org or 585-335-4327.