Stroke: Risk Factors and Signs

A stroke also called a brain attack occurs when a blood vessel ruptures or an artery in the brain is blocked. An ischemic stroke is when an artery is blocked by a clot and a hemorrhagic stroke happens when a blood vessel breaks and there is bleeding into the brain. Both types deprive the brain of oxygen and therefore the cells begin to die. Both types are deadly. A person has approximately 60 minutes to reach the emergency room and begin treatment. The longer the brain cells are without oxygen, the more damage is done resulting in more disability or death.

In the US, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, over 700,000 strokes occur every year. Stroke is the third leading cause of death and the number one cause of serious long-term disabilities such as paralysis and speech and thought problems.

There are several risk factors:

– Hypertension (high blood pressure)
– Smoking
– Excess weight and obesity
– Diabetes
– Excessive use of alcohol

A person having a stroke may show these signs:

– Sudden confusion
– Difficulty speaking or answering
– Limited vision in one eye or in both eyes
– Severe headache with no known cause
– Dizziness or loss of balance and coordination
– Numbness or weakness of the arm, leg, or face especially on one side of the body
– Difficulty in swallowing
– Sudden nausea, vomiting, or fever
– Unconsciousness

What to do if you suspect someone is having a stroke:

Do not hesitate. Call 911 immediately.

Treatments vary depending on the phase. During the Pre-stroke phase, you can reduce risk factors by quitting smoking, reducing weight, and controling high blood pressure and diabetes. During the stroke, it is imperative to stop the bleeding or to break up the clot so that blood can flow to the brain. There are several medications that can help this process which necessitates being treated at the hospital. In the Post -stroke phase, rehabilitation therapies are utilized.

Stroke is serious and can be deadly so it is imperative to reduce your risk factors and recognize the signs of a stroke. The National Insitute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke offers free pamphlets focusing on this topic at their website (www.ninds.nih.gov)

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