Every year, Americans suffer from about 795,000 strokes. Of these, about 610,000 are first-ever strokes, and 185,000 are recurrent strokes. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death for adults in the United States. And yet, many people do not know the warning signs of stroke or what to do if they occur. That’s why the American Heart Association has designated May as American Stroke Awareness Month. During this month, we raise awareness of stroke risk factors, warning signs, and treatment options. We also urge everyone to take steps to reduce their risk of stroke. This includes maintaining a healthy lifestyle, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and not smoking.
What is a stroke and what are the symptoms?
A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted. This can happen due to a blockage, such as a blood clot, or a bleed. When this happens, brain cells are deprived of oxygen and begin to die. This can lead to disability or even death.
There are two types of strokes: hemorrhagic and ischemic. Hemorrhagic strokes happen when a blood vessel ruptures and bleeds into the brain. Ischemic strokes happen when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood to the brain.
Symptoms of a stroke can include:
- Sudden onset of weakness or numbness in the face, arm, or leg (usually on one side of the body)
- Sudden onset of confusion or trouble speaking
- Sudden onset of difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden onset of dizziness, loss of balance, or trouble walking
- Sudden onset of a severe headache with no known cause
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to call 9-1-1 immediately and get to a hospital as soon as possible. Time is critical when it comes to stroke care, as the sooner you can receive treatment, the better your chances are of making a full recovery.
What causes a stroke?
There are many factors that can increase your risk of having a stroke. These include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Atrial fibrillation (a type of irregular heartbeat)
- Family history of stroke
- Age (strokes are more common in people over the age of 55)
If you have any of these risk factors, it’s important to talk to your doctor about what you can do to reduce your risk. In some cases, this may involve lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking or losing weight. In other cases, it may involve taking medication to control blood pressure or cholesterol levels.
What is the treatment for stroke?
The treatment for stroke depends on the type of stroke that has occurred.
If the stroke is caused by a blood clot, the goal of treatment is to quickly dissolve the clot and restore blood flow to the brain. This can be done with a medication called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). tPA must be given within 4.5 hours of the onset of symptoms in order to be effective.
If the stroke is caused by bleeding, the goal of treatment is to stop the bleeding and reduce pressure on the brain. This may involve surgery to remove the blood clot or repair a ruptured blood vessel.
In either case, immediate medical treatment is critical for reducing the risk of disability or death from stroke.
How can you prevent a stroke from happening to you or someone you love?
There are many things you can do to reduce your risk of having a stroke. These include:
- Maintaining a healthy lifestyle
- Controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Not smoking
- Eating a healthy diet
- Exercising regularly
- Managing any medical conditions that increase your risk of stroke, such as diabetes or atrial fibrillation
If you have a family history of stroke, you may be at higher risk for having a stroke yourself. Talk to your doctor about what you can do to reduce your risk.
You can also help raise awareness of stroke by sharing this information with your friends and family. Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability, but it doesn’t have to be. With the right knowledge and prevention strategies, we can all help reduce our risk of stroke.