Stroke is the third leading cause of death in this country. Strokes kill about 137,000 people each year and are a leading cause of serious, long-term adult disability.
Strokes can happen to anyone at any time, regardless of race, sex or age but approximately 55,000 more women than men have a stroke each year. Men’s stroke incidence rates are greater than women’s at younger ages but not older ages. African-Americans are more likely to have strokes than are people of other races.
There are two main kinds of stroke. An ischemic stroke occurs from a blood clot or when arteries are blocked by plaque or other fatty deposits. About 87 percent of all strokes are ischemic.
A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain breaks leaking blood into the brain. These kinds of strokes account for 13 percent of all strokes, yet are responsible for more than 30 percent of all stroke deaths.
Two million brain cells die every minute during a stroke, increasing the risk of permanent brain damage, disability or death.
Common stroke symptoms
Recognizing the symptoms of a stroke and acting fast to get medical attention can save a life and limit disabilities.
Common stroke symptoms include: sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body; sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; and a sudden severe headache with no known cause.
You can also use the following test for recognizing and responding to stroke symptoms:
First ask the person the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downwards?
Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Does the speech sound slurred or strange?
If you observe any of these signs, it’s time to call 911 or get to the nearest stroke center or hospital. It’s much better to call for an ambulance rather than drive so that treatment can start immediately.
Many factors can increase the risk of a stroke and some of these same factors can increase the chance of having a heart attack.
Factors include: having a previous stroke or a family history of having strokes or heart attacks; being age 55 or older; having high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, A-fib, a carotid artery disease, or diabetes; failing to get exercise; eating too much salt and fat; smoking; being overweight; and drinking too much alcohol.
Reducing your risk of a stroke
While everyone has some stroke risk, there are measures you can take to reduce your chance of having a stroke.
One is keep your blood pressure under control by having it checked at least once a year. Next, find out if you have A-fib and if you do, work with your doctor to manage it. Third is stop smoking. Fourth, if you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. Fifth, know and manage your cholesterol and if you have diabetes, follow your doctor’s recommendations carefully because you are at increased risk of a stroke. Sixth, exercise regularly and reduce the amount of salt in your diet. Last, if you have any stroke symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.