May is officially Stroke Awareness Month, but you should be alert to the signs of this condition all year long. Strokes are the third leading cause of death in the United States with around 800,000 victims each year. They do disproportionately affect seniors. In fact, approximately 75% of strokes occur in those 65 and older, but younger people can suffer from them as well. Due to lifestyle changes, the number of strokes had been declining earlier in this century, but that progress has stalled according to the CDC.Since strokes are so prevalent in the US, everyone needs to be aware of the signs of this condition and know what they should do if they spot them in others. The faster a stroke patient receives treatment, the better their chances are of surviving and for limiting permanent damage. A delay can mean death or severe physical and cognitive impairment.
Signs of Stroke
You can provide an incredible service to others by quickly recognizing the signs of stroke. The American Stroke Association recommends using the FAST system to identify people who need help.
- F ACE – If you suspect a stroke, ask the person to smile. If the smile is uneven or one side of the face is drooping, the person may be having a stroke.
- A RM – If one of a person’s arms is weak or numb, they may be having a stroke. Ask them to lift their arms and observe if one arm sags.
- S PEECH – A person having a stroke often has difficulty speaking and may slur their words. Ask them to repeat a simple sentence to check their speech.
- T IME – A stroke victim may not have all of these symptoms. If you observe any of the above signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.
Knowing these simple steps can help you to save lives.
The FAST method identifies many stroke victims, but the signs do vary. A person having a stroke may also suffer the following sudden symptoms:
- Numbness affecting the arm, leg or face, often on one side of the body.
- Confusion, including trouble speaking and understanding.
- Vision problems in one or both eyes.
- Trouble walking, dizziness, balance issues.
- Severe headache of unknown origin.
If you or someone you care for exhibits these symptoms, a visit to the emergency room is in order.
There are three main types of strokes. They are:
- Ischemic strokes- These strokes are caused by a blockage in an artery that delivers blood to the brain. This type accounts for 87% of all strokes.
- Hemorrhagic strokes – This type results from a blood vessel in the brain rupturing or leaking.
- Transient ischemic attacks- TIAs are also known as mini-strokes. These occur when a blood clot temporarily blocks the flow of blood to the brain. They resolve on their own but are indicators that a major stroke may be on the way.
Anyone can suffer from a stroke, but there are certain risk factors that raise your chances of having one. They include:
- High cholesterol
- Sedentary lifestyle
- High blood pressure
- Sleep apnea
- Heart disease
- Family history of stroke
If you have one or more of these risk factors, you can take action to lower your chances of suffering a stroke. You should quit smoking, exercise for at least 30 minutes three times a week, consume a healthy diet and get treatment for your other health conditions.
Quick action gives doctors more options for treatment that can minimize a stroke’s effect. For ischemic strokes, you can receive emergency IV medication within 4.5 hours from the onset of symptoms.
Doctors can also use emergency endovascular procedures including medications delivered through a catheter or removal of the clot using a stent retriever. Angioplasty or carotid endarterectomy (surgically removing plaque) may also be used. For a hemorrhagic stroke, patients may receive certain drugs or undergo one of several surgical options. Sometimes beams of radiation are used to repair malformations in blood vessels.