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STROKES: Recognizing symptoms and reducing your risk

By Jane Noble
July 10, 2013

Strokes are the third leading cause of death and the number one cause of disability in America. They affect nearly 800,000 people a year. They can vary from mild to catastrophic, and can be extremely disconcerting for patients and their families. Depending on severity, patients who have suffered strokes may require long term care and rehabilitation. Amada Senior Care has extensive experience helping clients and families deal with mild and severe stroke recovery and helping them better understand exactly what has happened. The good news is that most strokes are preventable and prompt action can dramatically affect outcomes for a stroke victim. Being well informed can help save a life.

WHAT IS A STROKE?

A stroke is like an attack on the brain that results in a rapid loss of brain function.  Vital blood and oxygen supply is cut off so that the brain cannot function properly. This can affect almost everything we do – including our ability to understand and formulate speech, our ability to move one or more limbs on one side of the body, and our ability to see on one side of the visual field. The stroke can be caused by a blockage, lack of blood flow or hemorrhage. In most cases, strokes occur when blood clots or fatty deposits block the arteries.

WHAT ARE THE WARNING SIGNS OF A STROKE?

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden sever headache with no known cause

WHAT TO DO IF A STROKE OCCURS

If the symptoms of a stroke occur, it is very important to take immediate action.

This is an emergency situation. Every second counts!

Call 911 right away and get to a hospital as soon as possible.

Check the time so you will know when the first symptoms appeared. If given within 3 hours of the start of symptoms, a clot-dissolving drug can reduce long term disability for the most common type of stroke.

GOOD NEWS: MOST STROKES ARE PREVENTABLE

The good news about strokes is that 4 out of 5 are preventable. There are some risk factors however that you cannot influence. If you fall into the high risk categories below, it is particularly important that you learn about stroke prevention.

RISK FACTORS YOU CAN’T CHANGE

AGE: Strokes happen to people of all ages, even children; but once you reach 55, your risk increases.

GENDER: Strokes are far more common in men than women.

HEREDITY: Your risk of stroke is greater if a parent, grandparent, brother or sister has had a stroke.

RACE: Although it is not exactly clear why, African Americans are twice as likely to die from a stroke as Caucasians. African Americans are more impacted by stroke than any other racial group within the American population.

DIABETES: Diabetes increases your chances of stroke. People with diabetes are also frequently overweight and have high blood pressure or  high cholesterol, which increases their risk even more.

TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR HEALTH: IMPROVE YOUR RISK WITH LIFESTYLE CHANGES

You can greatly diminish the risk of stroke by making lifestyle changes.

Based on guidelines brought out by the National Stroke Association, here are some suggestions for preventing strokes.

IF YOU SMOKE, STOP NOW

  • Smoking doubles the risk for stroke. If you stop smoking today, your risk for stroke will immediately begin to decrease.

DRINK ALCOHOL IN MODERATION

  • Drinking a glass of wine or beer or one mixed drink a day may actually lower your risk for stroke, provided there is no medical reason you should avoid alcohol.
  • Alcohol taken in large doses can be harmful. If you drink too much, cut back or stop.
  • If you don’t drink at all, there is no reason to start.
  • Remember that alcohol is a drug and can be dangerous when mixed with medications.

START EXERCISING

  • According to the Center for Disease Control, adults should engage in moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes on 5 or more days each week.
  • Don’t rush into a vigorous exercise program but start slowly and check with your doctor first.
  • Even a little bit of exercise can be hugely beneficial – a brisk walk, taking the stairs, a bicycle ride, swimming, gym classes, or even yard work.

LOSE WEIGHT

  • If you have too much body fat, particularly around the waist, you are at a higher risk for health problems. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
  • If you are overweight, every pound you lose reduces your risk of stroke.

EAT RIGHT

  • Cut down on salt and fat. This may lower your blood pressure and more importantly, your risk for stroke.
  • Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean chicken and fish. Eat high fiber foods such as beans and whole-grain bread.
  • Bake, broil or steam food rather than frying it.

CHECK YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE

High blood pressure (hypertension) is one of the most common causes of stroke. It is often called “the silent killer” because it usually has no symptoms. If it becomes elevated, you can work with your doctor to control it.

  • Have your blood pressure checked at least once a year – more often if you are in one of the high risk groups.
  • In addition to your doctor’s office, you can check your blood pressure at your local pharmacy or supermarket.
  • Your blood pressure is expressed in two numbers, for example 120/80. The first number, known as systolic blood pressure, is a measurement of the force your blood exerts on blood vessel walls as your heart pumps. The second number, the diastolic pressure, is a measurement of the force your blood exerts on blood vessel walls when your heart is at rests between beats.
  • For anyone over 18, optimum blood pressure should be less than 120/80.
  • High blood pressure or hypertension is a measurement of 140/90 or higher.

CHOLESTEROL: KNOW YOUR NUMBERS

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance in your blood. Know your cholesterol number. If it is high, work with your doctor to control it.

  • Your combined cholesterol level (LDL and HDL) should not exceed 200. You are at a high risk for stroke if your cholesterol level is over 240.
  • Your good cholesterol (HDL) should be more than 40mg/dL.

 

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