In the U.S., stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death. Of the 795,000 Americans who suffer a stroke every year, roughly 130,000 die as a result of the stroke. While these statistics are sobering, it’s important to remember that a stroke can be prevented.
“Two of the key factors in preventing a stroke are blood pressure control and smoking cessation,” says Dr. Jeff Wagner, a neurology specialist at Swedish Medical Center. “The risk of a stroke is reduced significantly when these factors are addressed.”
Types of stroke
A stroke occurs when part of your brain dies, due to a lack of oxygen-rich blood. There are two main types of stroke:
Ischemic stroke — An ischemic stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks blood flow to the brain, depriving the brain of oxygen and other vital nutrients. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 87 percent of all strokes are ischemic strokes.
Hemorrhagic stroke — A hemorrhagic stroke refers to when a blood vessel in the brain leaks or ruptures, which causes blood to pool in or around the brain. A hemorrhagic stroke can lead to brain damage and can be “much more disabling,” says Dr. Wagner. A 2009 study published in the journal Stroke indicated that hemorrhagic strokes are 56 percent more likely overall to cause death, compared to ischemic strokes.
A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is sometimes referred to as a “mini-stroke.” A transient ischemic attack occurs when blood flow to the brain is temporarily blocked or interrupted. Symptoms of a mini-stroke can last a few minutes to a few hours and do not cause permanent damage. However, in the first few hours or days after a TIA, a person is at greater risk of having an actual stroke. A full one-third of TIA patients suffer a stroke within the next year.
Symptoms of stroke
If you think someone is having a stroke, it’s important to look for sudden changes in speech, facial droop or weakness on one side of the body.
“The sooner a stroke is recognized and the patient arrives at a hospital, the more likely long-term damage can be avoided.” says Dr. Wagner.
To spot the symptoms of a stroke, memorize the acronym B.E. F.A.S.T., which stands for:
Balance — Does the person have a sudden loss of balance of coordination?
Eyes — Is there a sudden vision loss, distorted vision or blind spots in one eye?
Face — Ask the person to smile and see if one side of their mouth drops.
Arms — Can the person raise both arms over their head, or does one arm drop down?
Speech — Is their speech slurred or mumbled?
Time — In the case of stroke, getting treatment right away is crucial. Call 911 if someone is having any of these stroke symptoms.
Risk factors for stroke
There are several major risk factors of stroke. These risk factors include:
- High blood pressure
- High LDL cholesterol
- Heart disease
- Genetic factors
According to the CDC, a person’s risk of stroke doubles every 10 years after age 55. Your risk of stroke rises when you combine genetics and family history with other unhealthy lifestyle factors, such as smoking, poor diet and physical inactivity.
Treatment for stroke
In the last decade, there have been significant advances in treating ischemic stroke. Thrombolytic drugs are now used to dissolve blood clots in the brain, which could also help limit long-term damage. If someone has suffered a stroke, it’s important to act quickly and administer a thrombolytic within three hours of having the stroke.
If a blood clot is blocking one of the large arteries of the brain, surgery is another option for treating stroke. However, this procedure must be performed as soon as possible for best results.
In the case of a hemorrhagic stroke, the first step is to stabilize all vital signs. Then, doctors focus on ways to reduce pressure in the skull. A person who has suffered a hemorrhagic stroke might be given medications to lower their blood pressure, prevent seizures and relieve pressure in the brain. Surgery might be necessary following a hemorrhagic stroke.
Recovering from a stroke
For someone who has suffered a stroke, recovery depends on many factors, including the size of the stroke, its location in the brain and the type of stroke that occurred.
“Another factor in stroke recovery is age,” says Dr. Wagner. “The younger a patient is, the more brain plasticity there will be, and therefore a better recovery is possible.”
The overall health of the person who suffered a stroke is also a factor. Certain health conditions, like diabetes, congestive heart failure and kidney disease, can impair a person’s recovery from stroke.
Stroke is a serious and important health issue. Talk to your doctor about your stroke risk factors and how to prevent stroke.
Swedish Medical Center is the ONLY Stroke Center in the Rocky Mountain region four-times certified by The Joint Commission as a Primary Stroke Center and now as the first Comprehensive Stroke Center in the state and Rocky Mountain region.