About 700,000 Americans each year suffer a new or recurrent stroke, according to the American Stroke Association. That means, on average, a stroke occurs every 45 seconds. With these statistics, it is important to educate people on the symptoms and warning signs of the nation's third leading cause of death.
Stroke is a type of cardiovascular disease that affects the arteries leading to and within the brain. It occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts. When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood (and oxygen) it needs, so it starts to die. The brain is an extremely complex organ that controls various body functions. If a stroke occurs and blood flow can't reach the region that controls a particular body function, that part of the body won't work as it should.
Here are some stroke risk factors that can't be changed:
Age The chance of having a stroke more than doubles for each decade of life after age 55. While stroke is common among the elderly, a lot of people under 65 also have strokes.
Heredity (family history) and race Your stroke risk is greater if a parent, grandparent, sister or brother has had a stroke. African Americans have a much higher risk of death from a stroke partly because they have higher risks of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.
Sex (gender) Stroke is more common in men than in women. In most age groups, more men than women will have a stroke in a given year. However, more than half of total stroke deaths occur in women. At all ages, more women than men die of stroke.
Prior stroke, TIA or heart attack The risk of stroke for someone who has already had one is many times that of a person who has not. Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) are "warning strokes" that produce stroke-like symptoms but no lasting damage. TIAs are strong predictors of stroke. A person who's had one or more TIAs is almost 10 times more likely to have a stroke than someone of the same age and sex who hasn't. Recognizing and treating TIAs can reduce your risk of a major stroke. If you've had a heart attack, you're at higher risk of having a stroke, too.
Here are some stroke risk factors that can be changed, treated or controlled:
High blood pressure
Carotid or other artery disease including peripheral artery disease
Other heart disease
Sickle cell disease (also called sickle cell anemia)
High blood cholesterol
Physical inactivity and obesity
The American Stroke Association offers these warning signs:
Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
Sudden confusion, 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
Take action in an emergency.
Not all the warning signs occur in every stroke. Don't ignore signs of stroke, even if they go away.
Check the time. When did the first warning sign or symptom start? You'll be asked this important question later.
If you have one or more stroke symptoms that last more than a few minutes, don't delay. Immediately call 9-1-1 or the emergency medical service (EMS) number so an ambulance (ideally with advanced life support) can quickly be sent for you.
If you're with someone who may be having stroke symptoms, immediately call 9-1-1 or the EMS. Expect the person to protest denial is common. Don't take "no" for an answer. Insist on taking prompt action.