It’s important to note that while strokes can happen to anyone at any age, over 80% are preventable. You can lower your chances of ever having a stroke by taking steps today to maintain optimal cardiovascular health.
Read on for the warning signs of a stroke, common causes, risk factors, and measures you can take to prevent strokes, as well as how to get help from the professionals at WWMG Cardiology.
What is a stroke?
A stroke is the result of the blood supply to the brain being reduced or fully blocked. Because the brain needs a constant flow of oxygen and nutrients to work properly, strokes can cause brain cells to die after only a few moments, reducing or eliminating certain brain functions.
Having a stroke can affect one’s vision, balance, ability to think, speak, access memories, control vital bodily functions (such as bladder and bowel), and may also impact mobility. In more severe cases, strokes can result in death or paralysis. Although each stroke patient may be affected differently, there’s no doubt the event can affect one’s independence and quality of life.
What are the warning signs of a stroke?
There is a clever way to remember the warning signs of a stroke using the acronym “FAST.”
- F: Face Drooping — One side of the face begins drooping, either suddenly or over time.
- A: Arm Weakness — Tingling or numbness or mild pain in the arm(s).
- S: Speech Trouble — Words may be slurred or completely jumbled.
- T: Time to Call 911 — A stroke is a medical emergency and if you suspect that you or a loved one may be having one, call for help immediately.
Other stroke symptoms include confusion, dizziness, issues with coordination and balance, double vision, drowsiness, nausea, and vomiting. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.
What are the risk factors for a stroke?
There are many factors that can increase one’s chances of having a stroke:
- Family health history
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- High cholesterol
- Heart disease
- Abnormal heart rhythm
- Damaged heart valves
- Lack of physical activity
- Use of oral contraceptives
- Smoking or vaping
- Use of intravenous illegal drugs
- Excessive alcohol intake (5+ drinks/day)
- Age – risk doubles every 10 years after age 55
- Race – strokes are twice as common in the Black population than in Whites
- Gender – more common in men
What can you do to prevent a stroke?
To be proactive about stroke prevention, there are many things you can do:
1) Practice a healthy lifestyle that includes regular physical activity
Aim to exercise at least five days each week at a moderate intensity level. Find something you enjoy doing (dance, walking, yoga, swimming, working out at a gym, playing a team sport, etc.) so that reaching those activity goals will never feel like a chore. If you have an existing medical condition, talk to your health provider about what type of exercises or activities are appropriate for you.
2) Maintain a healthy body weight
This includes eating a diet rich in nutritious foods, avoiding processed snacks and meals, and limiting the amount of alcohol you consume.
3) Kick the habit of smoking or vaping (or don’t start)
Smoking thickens your blood, damages your lungs, and increases the amount of plaque buildup in your arteries. One of the best ways to prevent a stroke is to avoid smoking and vaping altogether.
4) Treat your diabetes
Having high blood sugar can damage blood vessels over time and make them more susceptible to clot formation. If you have diabetes, check your blood sugar levels regularly to control it, and see your health provider every 3 months to help manage your condition.
5) Maintain healthy blood pressure
If your blood pressure is in a dangerous zone, it can quadruple your risk of having a stroke, so it’s very important to monitor it regularly and work with your primary care provider or cardiologist to adjust lifestyle behaviors if your readings aren’t in a safe range.
6) Manage high cholesterol
High cholesterol can cause fatty deposits to form in the blood vessels. As the deposits become larger, they can impede blood flow or cause a clot. Managing cholesterol via diet or medications such as statins can help to reduce the risk of stroke.
Get support for preventing and treating strokes
If you’re experiencing the FAST symptoms of a stroke, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.
If you have one or more of the risk factors associated with strokes and are concerned, visit your WWMG Primary Care provider. They can help advise on lifestyle modifications, medication, or refer you to a specialist such as a Neurologist.