Kirby Puckett’s Death a Lesson About Cardiovascular Disease

So you’re in your 40s, a little overweight and you don’t work out as much as you’d like to. Think the only consequence is that you can’t fit into your favorite jeans? Well, you could be dead wrong.

Many people believe that cardiovascular disease is something for the elderly to be concerned about. While it is true that strokes and heart attacks occur more often among the elderly, ignoring the risk factors can be a deadly mistake.

The recent death of legendary baseball player Kirby Puckett from a stroke is a solemn reminder that cardiovascular disease can strike at any age. In fact, stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States and in Missouri.

“The untimely death of Kirby Puckett puts a very real face on this crucial health issue,” said Judy Alexiou, manager of the Missouri Department of Health’s Heart Disease and Stroke Program. “We are reminded that stroke can strike at any age.”
Puckett was only 45 at the time of his death and was not someone who many would have thought was at risk for cardiovascular disease.

After all, Puckett was hugely popular with baseball fans and helped the Minnesota Twins win not one, but two World Series championships in 1987 and 1997.

It wasn’t his heart or lungs, but glaucoma that cut short his 12-season. Puckett was known as a great player and a great person and he was inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame in 2001 – the first year he was eligible.

Of the top five life-threatening health conditions, stroke is one of the most preventable, according to the National Stroke Association.

“Stroke is one of Missouri’s most serious health concerns, but much can be done to prevent it,” Alexiou said. “It is vital that we know the risk factors and symptoms of stroke to protect ourselves and our loved ones.”

Factors that put a person at greater risk of having a stroke include:
�· High blood pressure
�· High cholesterol
�· Diabetes
�· Poor nutrition
�· Physical inactivity
�· Obesity

Puckett had put on weight following his exit from baseball, but that might not have been the only factor. The American Stroke Association reports that African Americans are more than twice as likely to suffer a stroke when compared to whites. African Americans also have higher rates of several stroke risk factors – tobacco use, obesity and high blood pressure.

Although the prevalence of high blood pressure in African Americans in the United States is among the highest in the world, many African Americans are unaware of their increased risk of stroke, according to the American Stroke Association.

Because stroke most often occurs quickly and unexpectedly, it is crucial to recognize the symptoms of stroke and respond immediately, Alexiou said.

Stroke symptoms include:
Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
Sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding
Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
Sudden severe headache with no known cause

If you or someone you know experiences the symptoms of a stroke the key is to act quickly. Immediate medical attention, within three hours of the stroke, can greatly reduce the risk of permanent damage or death.

To help prevent stroke, people should follow their health care provider’s advice if they have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes; not smoke; maintain a healthy weight; make smart food choices; and be physically active.

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