Each year nearly 800,000 people suffer from a new or recurrent stroke. It is the fifth leading cause of death and the leading cause of adult disability in the United States. Up to eighty percent of strokes can be prevented.
A stroke is also known as a cerebrovascular accident (CVA). A stroke occurs when the blood flow to your brain is reduced or cut off. When this happens, brain cells are deprived of oxygen and begin to die. Each person is affected differently depending on the area of the brain it occurs and the size of the stroke.
There are two types of strokes; hemorrhagic and ischemic. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a brain aneurism bursts or a weakened blood vessel leaks. Blood spills in and around the brain causing swelling and pressure. This kind of stroke is less common but is responsible for about 40% of all stroke deaths. An ischemic stroke is when a vessel carrying blood to the brain is blocked by a blood clot.
Sometimes blood flow to the brain is stopped for a short period of time. This is called a transient ischemic attack (TIA). A TIA mimics stroke symptoms but they do not last longer than 24 hours. It does not cause permanent brain damage but can be a warning sign for a future stroke.
Several risk factors can be preventable and lessen the chance of having a stroke. These include obesity, heavy drinking, drug use, and physical inactivity. Preventable medical risk factors include high blood pressure, cigarette smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, high cholesterol, diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, and cardiovascular disease. Other risk factors include personal or family history of stroke, heart attack, or TIA; age 55 and over; race (African-Americans are at higher risk); and gender (males are at higher risk than women).
Watch for these signs and symptoms if you think you or someone may be having a stroke.
-Trouble speak or understanding. You may have some confusion, slurring your words, or have troubles understanding speech.
-Paralysis or numbness of the face, arm, or leg. You may develop sudden numbness or weakness in your face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body.
-Trouble seeing in one or both eyes. Your vision may become suddenly blurred or blackened in one or both eyes, or you may start seeing double.
-Headache. You may get a sudden, severe headache accompanied by vomiting, dizziness, or altered consciousness.
-Trouble with walking. You may experience sudden dizziness, loss of balance, or loss of coordination.
Seek IMMEDIATE medical attention if you or someone is experiencing ANY of the signs or symptoms of a stroke, even if they seem to fluctuate or disappear. Remember to think “FAST”.
Face. Ask the person to smile. Does one side droop?
Arms. Ask the person to raise both arms up. Does one arm drift downward? Is one arm unable to lift up?
Speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is the speech slurred or strange?
Time. If you observe any of these signs, call 911 immediately.
So what does happen if you or someone you know suffers from a stroke? Depending on the location of the stroke and the time before help was received, an intense rehabilitation program is needed to start regaining independence and function. Part of the rehabilitation team may include physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. The sooner therapy is started, the better, so that you can regain lost abilities and skills. Depending on the severity of the stroke, therapy may last months to years and can be a long and frustrating experience. However, with patience and hard work, you may gain a better quality of life.