A stroke is one of the most dangerous medical events imaginable, carrying a high mortality rate and a significant chance of long-term neurological damage for survivors. Despite the prevalence of stroke, as well as the importance of quick treatment for both survival and recovery, only 38% of people can recognize the immediate signs of stroke.
The Facts About Strokes
Stroke has a massive impact on health in the United States, and is one of the nation's most common causes of death:
- A stroke happens every 40 seconds in the U.S. Death from a stroke happens every 4 minutes.
- 795,000 strokes happen yearly in the U.S.
- 140,000 Americans die from stroke every year.
- About 1 out of 20 deaths are caused by stroke.
- 185,000 strokes--about 1 in 4--happen to people who have previously had a stroke.
- More than half of stroke survivors over 65 have reduced mobility.
- $34 billion is lost yearly to strokes, factoring health care cost and lost work.
There are multiple types of strokes, but the most common form is Ischemic Stroke, in which a blood vessel to the brain is obstructed. This accounts for 87% of all strokes. There are also Hemorrhagic Strokes, caused by a blood vessel rupturing, and Transient Ischemic Attacks, short-duration strokes without lasting damage.
Spotting a Stroke
Quick treatment for a stroke is invaluable -- it can not only save someone's life, but also mitigate the long-term damage done by a stroke. Strokes come on quickly, so recognizing them quickly is crucial: patients treated within 3 hours of their first symptoms typically have less disability after 3 months. To identify the warning signs of a stroke, learn the letters B.E. F.A.S.T.
B: Balance - sudden dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
E: Eyes - sudden trouble seeing out of one or both eyes.
F: Face - facial weakness or drooping, uneven smile.
A: Arm - arm weakness or numbness, inability to raise both arms evenly.
S: Speech - slurred or impaired speech, difficulty repeating simple phrases.
T: Time - call 911 immediately if any of these symptoms are present.
These are not the only signs, but common ones. Other indicators may include sudden confusion, or sudden, severe headache.
Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA): A Transient Ischemic Attack is frequently referred to as a mini-stroke, offering many of the same symptoms but without permanent damage, and it's a serious warning. Like many strokes, it's caused by a clot or blockage in the brain, but symptoms disappear shortly after the clot dissolves or becomes dislodged. This is no reason to ignore a TIA, though! The statistics tell a sobering story:
- 15 percent of all strokes are preceded by a TIA.
- Up to 25 percent of people who suffer a TIA die within a year.
- Nearly one-third of people who experience a TIA have a more serious stroke within one year.
Many factors contribute to the likelihood of a stroke:
- Age: older people have a higher likelihood.
- Family History: an immediate relative who has had a stroke may indicate a genetic predisposition.
- Gender: women have more strokes and a higher mortality rate from them. This may be due to an average longer lifespan,
- Race: African-Americans have higher stroke risk, due to higher rates of obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
- Prior Events: previous strokes, TIAs, or heart attacks.
Those factors cannot be changed, but many lifestyle choices can contribute to risk of stroke, and that risk can be reduced:
- Diet: diets high in saturated fat, trans fat, or cholesterol can raise cholesterol levels. High-sodium diets can increase blood pressure.
- Diabetes: increases your stroke risk and often paired with high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and obesity.
- High Blood Cholesterol: excess cholesterol can create blood clots.
- High Blood Pressure.
- Obesity: a cofactor in many conditions that lead to stroke.
- Physical Inactivity: increases your risk of other conditions that lead to stroke.
- Smoking: damages the cardiovascular system.
- Artery issues: diseases that narrow blood vessels like Carotid Artery Disease or Peripheral Artery Disease.
- Atrial Fibrillation: a heart rhythm disorder that can cause blood to pool and clot.
Although stroke risk increases as we age, between 30 to 35% of hospital admissions for stroke are patients under 65. Lifestyle choices are important in mitigating your risk. Doctors recommend:
- Weight loss.
- Increased physical activity.
- Maintaining lower blood pressure.
- Quitting smoking.
- Drinking only in moderation: drinking in excess can raise blood pressure.
- Treating diabetes: maintain proper blood sugar levels.
- Treating atrial fibrillation: see a doctor if you experience heart palpitations or shortness of breath.
The National Stroke Association reports that if certain conditions were eliminated, the risk of stroke would be reduced by a significant amount:
- Hypertension: 47.9%
- Physical inactivity: 35.8%
- Lipids (blood fats): 26.8%
- Poor diet: 23.2%
- Obesity: 18.6%
- Smoking: 12.4%
- Heart causes: 9.1%
- Alcohol intake: 5.8%
- Stress: 5.8%
- Diabetes: 3.9%
Recognizing the signs of a stroke is vital, as is properly treating conditions like Transient Ischemic Attacks that may presage a future stroke, but nothing can lead to a better outcome than prevention. Adopting lifestyle changes like increased physical activity and a better diet will not only reduce your risk of stroke, it will improve all aspects of your health and well-being.