Stroke prevention is more than likely a no-brainer for those born into families where someone has suffered the effects of having a stroke. With images of legendary actress Lauren Bacall, who recently died of a stroke, or “brain attack” as it is sometimes called, still fresh in mind, a lot of other Americans are likely wondering about stroke prevention.
Stroke, which follows cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease as the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S., occurs when blood does not reach the brain or when there is bleeding in the brain. Blood flow can cease when a blood clot forms within the brain or neck area, when a blood clot travels from somewhere else in the body or when the flow of blood is prevented because of narrowed arteries. Bleeding within the brain occurs when a blood vessel bursts.
When blood does not reach the brain properly, cells begin to die and certain body functions, including memory, speech and motion can be severely impacted. Without medical treatment, stroke can cause death or permanent disability. With immediate medical attention, however, a full recovery is sometimes possible.
Stroke warning signs include weakness or numbness on one side of the body. The victim may have trouble speaking, become disoriented or experience severe headache, vision problems and nausea. The F.A.S.T. acronym, which stands for face, arms, speech and time, is a helpful and easy to remember way to tell if someone is having a stroke. The first step is checking the face to see if there is any drooping or if the person can smile. Asking the person to hold their arms up and if they can repeat a simple sentence (speech) can also give clues. Ultimately, in the event of a possible stroke, seeking medical attention as soon as possible (time) can be the difference between life and death.
While doctors agree that knowing the warning signs and getting medical attention as soon as possible increases the chances for successful treatment, stroke prevention can be just as important. Taking steps to prevent stroke would appear to be a no-brainer, but there are some people that fail to heed the warnings. Age, gender, race and family history are all contributing factors that cannot be altered, but there are some lifestyle changes that can reduce the risk of stroke. Cigarette smoking is one, and is said to double to risk of stroke. Monitoring cholesterol and getting physical exercise are preventive measures as well.
Decreasing the buildup of Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, also known as the “bad” cholesterol, in the arteries can be a major stroke reducing measure as can implementing an exercise regimen. Eating a diet filled with fresh fruits, vegetables and fiber and eliminating or decreasing the consumption of processed foods, refined sugars and sodium is a good way to balance cholesterol and maintain a healthy weight. Sometimes medication is needed to reduce LDL in the blood stream. Doctors also agree that any exercise, even walking, can help keep blood flowing properly, thus reducing the blockages that could potentially result in a stroke.
Other risk factors for stroke include diabetes and high blood pressure, which is probably the number one culprit. While high blood pressure can be modulated with medication or through dietary changes such as reducing sodium intake, many people do not know that they have an issue. It is very important, especially if high blood pressure runs in the family, to monitor one’s blood pressure. One thing is for sure, with stroke being the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. and over 130,000 people a year dying from stroke, taking steps to prevent stroke is a no-brainer.
By Constance Spruill