As we enter into May it’s a time to turn our focus onto something that impacts nearly a million people every year. May is American Stroke Month, and it’s an opportunity to raise awareness to a life-threatening condition and the preventative measures we can all take to prevent them. Nearly 800,000 Americans suffer from strokes each year, and nearly a quarter of those are people who have had previous strokes. That’s a staggering number, and it’s important to realize not only the long-term disabilities that they cause but also the measures we can take to minimize the risk of stroke.
As we look ahead, we want to encourage others to join us in the fight to prevent strokes and also become more aware of the causes, symptoms, and impact they can have. It’s likely that you know someone who has suffered from a stroke, and it’s very probable that you know someone who is at risk of stroke. And while a lot of factors play into the risk of stroke, the reality is that there is a lot you can do to safeguard yourself from the risk. Being aware of the impact, causes, and prevention of strokes is one of the most important ways we can reflect during this awareness month.
Strokes happen when the flow of blood to the brain is disrupted. There are two primary causes of blood flow disruption – blocked arteries and ruptured blood vessels. Strokes caused by blockage are known as ischemic strokes, while those that occur because of leaking or ruptured vessels are referred to as hemorrhagic strokes. More than 85% of all strokes are ischemic, and those are often the easiest to prevent if the proper measures are taken.
When the human body suffers from a stroke, there are a wide-range of short-term and long-term effects and disabilities that can set in. When the brain loses blood flow, brain cells begin to die off. The longer the flow of blood is impacted, the more cells are lost. The most catastrophic strokes can be fatal, as the brain loses too much function for the body to live. If we think of the brain as a computer, then basic functions are interrupted or stopped altogether when that computer stops working. The body responds the same way as technology, shutting down basic functions until the flow of blood is restored.
Paralysis or numbness in the face and limbs are the most well-known symptoms of stroke, but the truth is there are a wide-range of effects a stroke can have on your body. Disorientation, confusion, and trouble speaking or thinking are also very common signs and symptoms of stroke. Blurred vision, headaches, and trouble with basic motor functions are all well-known symptoms of stroke. It’s important to recognize these symptoms, as early medical attention can mitigate the long-term impact of the stroke. Unfortunately, only 38% of people suffering from a stroke recognize the symptoms fast enough to dial 9-1-1.
Knowing what to look for can quite literally save lives. It’s important to seek immediate medical attention if you or someone around you begins exhibiting any signs of stroke. Remember the acronym Think FAST.
● Face - If you or someone is unable to smile when asked or a noticeable droop occurs, this could be an early sign of stroke.
● Arms - Are you able to raise your arms? If one sags or you’re unable to, it’s time to contact emergency help.
● Speech - Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Inability to speak properly is a common warning sign.
● Time - If you see or exhibit any of the above symptoms, it’s TIME to contact 9-1-1 for immediate help.
Causes Aren’t Always Extreme
While we know that strokes happen only when blood flow to the brain is impacted or stops altogether, the causes of impacted blood flow might be more common than you realize. It’s important that we all take the time to understand the causes and evaluate our own risks to ensure proper prevention. Let’s take a look at some of the causes behind both hemorrhagic and ischemic strokes.
Hemorrhagic strokes: As we’ve identified above, hemorrhagic strokes are those caused by leaking or ruptured blood vessels. But what causes a blood vessel to rupture in the first place? It’s a lot less than many realize. Here are the leading causes of hemorrhagic stroke:
● High blood pressure that has gone untreated
● Overuse of blood thinning or anticoagulation medications
● Swelling weak spots in your blood vessels (commonly known as aneurysms)
● Impact and trauma such as those that might occur in a car accident
● Previous or concurrent ischemic strokes that lead to rupture
Ischemic strokes: Strokes caused by stopped blocked arteries are the most common and also the most preventable. Ischemic strokes are often caused by lifestyle factors and choices. Understanding these causes can help you make valuable and oftentimes life-saving changes to your lifestyle and habits. Here are some of the leading lifestyle causes of ischemic stroke:
● Long periods of inactivity
● Binge drinking and heavy alcohol consumption
● The use of recreational drugs, particularly cocaine and amphetamines
● Cigarette smoking or regular exposure to secondhand smoke
Even if you live a healthy lifestyle and avoid the causes above, there are other medical risks to be aware of that can lead to ischemic stroke. These include:
● High cholesterol or high blood pressure
● Sleep apnea
● Cardiovascular diseases such as heart failure, defects, infections, and arrhythmia
● Covid-19 infection
Age, race, sex, and genetics also play a role in the causes of strokes. This is why it is so important to consult your doctor about the risks you might face so that you can develop a plan to mitigate those risks.
There is Good News!
Despite all the contributing factors that play a role in determining your risk of stroke, there is some good news. With a combination of lifestyle changes, medical consultation, and maintaining healthy habits, you can drastically reduce the risk of stroke. Here are some basic practices you can begin applying today to ensure you’ll live a productive, healthy life.
Avoid high blood pressure
It’s important to understand the causes of high blood pressure. Prolonged stress, unhealthy diets, and genetic disposition can all play a role in high blood pressure. Making healthy changes to your everyday lifestyle or taking prescribed medications can help you avoid excessive blood pressure.
This should come as no surprise. In addition to impacting your body in myriad ways, the use of tobacco greatly increases your risk of stroke. If you’re still smoking, now is a good time to stop!
Maintain healthy weight
Consult with your doctor to determine your target weight range. Improved eating habits and exercise can help prevent obesity, which is one of the leading causes of ischemic strokes.
Eat more fruits and vegetables
We’ve all heard this since childhood, and for good measure. Increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables in your daily diet can help prevent stroke. Five or more daily servings is a good rule of thumb.
Avoid saturated fats
Saturated fats clog arteries, and clogged arteries cause stroke. It’s a good idea to be more aware of the fats in your diet, and minimizing harmful saturated fats will do your body a lot of good in addition to minimizing your risk of stroke.
Manage your health issues
Diabetes and other chronic medical conditions such as sleep apnea are big factors when it comes to risk and prevention of stroke. Consult with your doctor and stick to their prescribed treatment to minimize their impact.
Routine exercise not only improves your overall health and mental wellbeing, but it also does your body a lot of hidden good too. Just 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise can lower your blood pressure, increase your levels of good cholesterol, and improve your artery and heart functions.
Cut out recreational drugs
Recreational drug use can lead to a wide-range of health issues, with strokes being one of them. If you’re using recreational drugs, it’s time to cut them out of your life, if only to ensure a longer, healthier life.
You’ve Got a Partner in This Fight
At Holding Hands Home Healthcare, we’re doing our part to bring awareness to the causes, risks, and prevention of strokes during this American Stroke Month. But it goes beyond information and awareness for us. If you or someone you know is suffering from disabilities of stroke, or you need help making the healthy lifestyle changes that will minimize your risk of stroke, contact us today.
Our healthcare team is here to serve you and help you live a healthier, more enjoyable life. We’ll help you cope with and adapt to the cognitive and functional changes you may be experiencing after a stroke. We have a rich experience helping people overcome the limitations of disability, and we’ll work with you to develop a plan that gets you back to enjoying life the way you want to enjoy it. We’ll also help you make the healthy changes to minimize future strokes from happening. Contact us today and let us know how we can partner with you for a better future.
And if nothing more, we encourage you to educate others and bring awareness to something that impacts someone in America every 40 seconds.