National Stroke Awareness Month
May is National Stroke Awareness Month. A stroke happens when blood flow to the brain is cut off; without this flow of oxygen, brain cells begin to die within minutes. There are two types of strokes- Ischemic and Hemorrhagic. Ischemic strokes are the most common kind and occur when a blood vessel taking blood to the brain gets plugged due to fatty deposits in the arteries or irregular heartbeat. Hemorrhagic strokes are less common and occur when a blood vessel in the brain bursts or leaks. This type of stroke is generally due to uncontrolled high blood pressure, or taking too much blood thinner medicine. Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIA) or “mini-strokes” are also common. These are due to a temporary blockage, and while it does not cause permanent brain damage, it raises an individual’s risk of having a full- scale stroke.
If you think someone may be having a stroke, think F.A.ST. This acronym is designed to help you remember the major points to check for a stroke. Does one side of the person’s Face droop? Does one Arm drift downward? Does the Speech sound slurred or strange? If you observe any of these signs, Time is of the essence – call 911 immediately.
What are the biggest causes of stroke? High blood pressure, tobacco use, heart disease, age and diabetes are the biggest risk factors. Certain medications, family history, race, and gender are also risk factors. If you fall under the hypertension category for blood pressure, talk to your doctor about options for lowering it. Tobacco use severely increases the risk of stroke because Nicotine increases blood pressure and causes fatty buildup in your main neck artery. Age is another major factor- even though it is possible for anyone to have a stroke, the chances double every decade after the age of 55. Statistically, women are less likely to have a stroke than men of the same age. African Americans and nonwhite Hispanic Americans are affected by strokes far more than their Caucasian counterparts.
In order to lower your risk of stroke, start by knowing your family history. If your family members have suffered from a stroke, make your doctor aware and monitor your health carefully. A healthy diet designed to lower blood pressure coupled with exercise can greatly decrease your risk of stroke. Discontinuing tobacco use is also one of the best ways to lower your risk and improve your health. Stress can be another contributing factor, so make sure you are taking steps to manage stress in a healthy way!