There are medical emergencies where your entire life can change within just a few minutes. One of those is stroke, which happens when an artery is blocked or ruptures, interrupting blood flow to the brain. The month of May is Stroke Awareness Month, the perfect time to learn more about this condition and how to recognize it.
Stroke is a serious medical emergency because as blood flow is blocked from your brain you are losing approximately 2 million brain cells every minute as your brain isn’t getting the oxygen and nutrients it needs. If not treated as soon as possible a stroke can cause permanent brain damage. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and the leading cause of long-term disability in America.
How to recognize a stroke
Stroke signs and symptoms of a stroke include sudden onset of
B – Balance problems; profound dizziness (room spinning); nausea/vomiting
E - Eyesight problems; double vision; loss of vision in a peripheral field
F – Facial droop on one side
A – Arm, face, leg weakness, heaviness, numbness on one side of body
S – Speech changes; slurred speech; word finding problems; cannot speak
T – Terrible headache with no known cause.
Call 911 for any of these.
Every 4 minutes someone dies from a stroke. 80% of strokes can be prevented by avoiding and controlling stroke risk factors. Some of the most common risk factors that cause a stroke include:
- High blood pressure
- Diabetes mellitus
- High cholesterol
- Physical inactivity
- Atrial fibrillation
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Illegal drug use – marijuana, cocaine
Most people who have a stroke have high blood pressure (hypertension). High blood pressure is known as a “silent killer” because there are no clear symptoms.
Nearly half of the American adult population has hypertension and 1 in 6 don’t know they have it. Uncontrolled blood pressure can also lead to heart attack, vision loss, heart failure, sexual dysfunction, and kidney failure.
Some non-modifiable risk factors related to high blood pressure and stroke include:
- Family history
- Age – the older we get, the higher the risk of getting high blood pressure
- Gender – until age 64, men are more likely than women, after age 65, women more likely.
- Race – African Americans have a higher risk.
So, what Healthy changes can you make to prevent high blood pressure and Stroke?
- Know your blood pressure! Normal blood pressure is below 120/80. Check you blood pressure regularly. Check it daily at the same time every day.
- Eat a well-balanced diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grain, low-fat dairy, and low-fat meats. Reduce sodium/salt intake, total fat, saturated fat cholesterol intake.
- Exercise regularly (if approved by your doctor) for at least 30 minutes a day for 4 or more days a week.
- Limit alcohol intake.
- Quit smoking.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Take your medications as prescribed.
- Manage stress with healthy options.
Controlling your blood pressure is a lifetime commitment, which is possible by visiting and talking regularly with your healthcare provider. For more information on stroke and high blood pressure prevention please visit the American Heart Website at www.heart.org or www.stroke.org.
Toni Rougeou, RN, is the Stroke Program Coordinator for University Medical Center New Orleans. University Medical Center is an Advanced Primary Stroke Center with a full stroke team on call 24/7 to immediately care for patients with stroke symptoms.