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Posted on in Heart Health

Cut Your Risk of a Stroke

May is National Stroke Awareness Month  Medically Reviewed by Nicolette Naso, MD

All of a sudden you feel dizzy. You try to talk, but it doesn’t come out right. Your leg (or arm or face) feels weak and numb. A splitting headache hits you out of the blue.  Your vision blurs. The symptoms of a stroke seem simple and straightforward.  However, a survey by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that only 38% of people could correctly identify all 5 symptoms of stroke. If these appear SUDDENLY, call 911 immediately. Stroke is the leading cause of death and long-term disability in the US. 

“The ability to identify stroke symptoms is important, because the speed with which a victim receives treatment is critical to their survival and recovery,” says McLeod Cardiologist Nicolette Naso, MD.  “It can take months to recover from the disabilities. Sadly, about 30% of patients who survive have life-long disabilities.”

A long list of factors raise a person’s risk for suffering stroke:

  • Atrial Fibrillation. Irregular beating of the heart can cause blood to pool in the heart, leading to blood clots.  These clots can then be carried to the brain, triggering a stroke.
  • Smoking.  In much the same way smoking attacks blood vessels and the heart, the damage can increase the chance of stroke.
  • High Blood Pressure.  Aside from stopping smoking, controlling your blood pressure is one of the few risk factors that a person can control.  
  • Age.  The older we are the more likely a person is to suffer a stroke.
  • Women & Hormones.  Oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapies can cause problems in some women, leading to a stroke.
  • Preeclampsia.  A pregnant woman, who suffered preeclampsia during pregnancy, faces increased risk of a stroke in her 50s and 60s.
  • Migraines.  People who have these debilitating headaches – especially when accompanied by fuzzy vision, flashy lights or a weak arm – face increased stroke risk.

There are primarily 2 types of strokes.  Hemorrhagic Stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures. When a clot blocks blood to the brain, an Ischemic Stroke, the most common type, occurs.  A Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) occurs when the blood supply is only briefly interrupted.  

Final Thought: TIAs are often viewed as a warning sign that the person may face a more serious stroke in the near future. TIAs should not be ignored.  The person should be seen by a specialist as soon as possible.

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Sources include: McLeod Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Heart Association, National Stroke Association, Women’s Health Initiative, National Institutes of Health, Preeclampsia Foundation.

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