A stroke is a serious medical emergency, and the odds of survival are much higher if help comes quickly. If you know the signs of a stroke, you might save someone’s life. In fact:
- Stroke is the 5th leading cause of death in the US
- Every year more than 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke, about 610,000 of them for the first time
- Stroke kills almost 130,000 Americans each year
- According to the CDC, one American dies from stroke every 4 minutes
The good news is 4 in 5 strokes are preventable. Knowing the risk factors will empower you to take charge of your health and reduce your risk of stroke.
What are the Types of Stroke?
There are several types of stroke. They all involve disrupted blood flow in the brain that leads to brain damage. Here are the most common types of stroke:
- Ischemic Stroke. This stroke occurs when a clot blocks blood supply to the brain, causing brain cells to lose oxygen. If not treated immediately, this lack of oxygen can cause brain cells to die.
- Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIA). This is a type of ischemic stroke, but TIA involves only a temporary blood clot that goes away on its own. A TIA is a warning that a bigger, more serious stroke may be on the way.
- Hemorrhagic stroke. This involves bleeding in the brain rather than a clot. Hemorrhagic stroke causes include aneurysms and arteriovenous malformations. These are weak blood vessels. Uncontrolled high blood pressure is the most common cause of hemorrhagic stroke.
- Silent stroke. This type of stroke has no noticed symptoms and is rarely identified until long after it occurs. The damage they cause is subtle. Over time, the impacts of silent stroke may begin to emerge.
What are the Signs of a Stroke?
Symptoms of a stroke may include the following:
- Sudden weakness on one side of the body. This includes facial drooping, weakness in the arms and legs, and numbness.
- Sudden slurred speech. This might also include confusion and difficulty understanding others.
- Sudden changes in vision. This can occur in one or both eyes.
- Sudden loss of coordination. This might include dizziness, feeling unbalanced, and trouble walking.
- Sudden severe headache. Many people describe this headache as the worst headache they’ve ever had. This headache may cause vomiting.
What to do if Someone is Having a Stroke
The National Stroke Association has created the acronym FAST. This acronym tells you what to do if you suspect someone is having a stroke. First, you will assess the person for the most common signs of a stroke. If they’re showing symptoms, you will immediately call for help. Remembering FAST will ensure that you can respond to the warning signs of a stroke.
FAST Signs of a Stroke:
- Face drooping. One side of the face may droop or become numb. Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
- Arm weakness. One arm may become weak or numb. Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
- Speech. Speech may become slurred and difficult to understand. Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is speech slurred or garbled?
- Time to call. If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately. Call even if the signs go away. Check the time so you know exactly when symptoms began.
Acting quickly in the event of a stroke is essential. The chances of survival are greater when emergency treatment begins quickly. Patients who receive treatment within three hours of symptoms starting have better outcomes than those who don't.
If someone is having a stroke, call an ambulance, don’t try to drive them to the hospital yourself. First responders can begin life-saving treatment and perform cpr on the way to the emergency room. They can help ensure that diagnosis and treatment begin immediately upon hospital arrival. Since quick action is so crucial for stroke outcomes, it’s critical to call 911 for an ambulance.
What is a Silent Stroke?
Silent strokes do not have obvious symptoms but can lead to long-term harm. Researchers and physicians recently discovered silent strokes. Since they were recently discovered, we don't yet completely understand their long term-impacts.
We do know that silent strokes are more common than strokes that cause symptoms. One in four people over the age of 80 has had a silent stroke. Silent strokes increase the risk of future stroke, cognitive decline, and dementia.
Doctors find silent strokes on MRI, and they appear as white spots. These white spots are areas of the brain that have experienced damage. Since these damaged areas are small, the effects of this damage aren’t obvious right away. This damage can build up over time and begin to have an impact on memory and brain function.
What are the Risk Factors for a Stroke?
Risk factors for stroke include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Advanced age
Many risk factors for stroke are manageable, decreasing the risk of stroke. You can take charge of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Management strategies include a healthy diet, exercise, and medication. If you or a loved one has any of these conditions, make a plan to see a doctor so you can learn how to manage them. If you or your loved one smokes, consider quitting or cutting back.
Damaged blood vessels in the brain are what lead to stroke. Blood vessels undergo damage through the aging process. It is possible to limit that damage through healthy choices. If you are at a significant risk stroke, your doctor may prescribe a low dose of aspirin to reduce your risk.
Women have some unique risk factors for stroke. These include:
- History of high blood pressure during pregnancy.
- Using certain types of birth control, especially if used while smoking.
Recovering from a Stroke
If your loved one has suffered a stroke, it can be a challenging medical event to cope with and recover from. Patients must simultaneously overcome physical, cognitive and emotional challenges. Many stroke survivors report frustrations with the recovery process. Having a professional care team can help you take a proactive and informed approach to post-stroke care for your loved one to ease stress.
If you or a loved one has had a stroke, it is more important than ever to manage risk factors. 1 in 4 stroke survivors has another stroke within 5 years. Up to 80% of second ischemic strokes may be preventable. Accessing care allows your loved one to have support in reducing their risk of future stroke. Care providers can help by:
- Preparing healthy meals that lower cholesterol and keep blood sugar under control
- Assisting with exercise to improve blood pressure
- Scheduling and attending medical appointments to manage medical conditions
Stroke is a scary prospect. You’re now equipped to lower your risk of stroke, respond if you witness a stroke, and support a loved one through recovery.