Did you know that the fifth leading cause of death for Americans is stroke? No kidding.
Stroke “is a medical condition in which poor blood flow to the brain results in cell death,” according to the National Institute of Health. The Mayo Clinic adds:
“A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of your brain is interrupted or reduced, depriving brain tissue of oxygen and nutrients. Within minutes, brain cells begin to die.”
After oxygen-starved brain cells die, the physical and psychological consequences are severe. My mother experienced permanent paralysis of one arm after having a stroke while she was sleeping. It took her a full 24 hours to figure out her arm wasn’t just numb from sleeping on it and seek medical attention. Two years later, she has not regained full use of that arm and hand, despite regular physical therapy.
The National Stroke Association confirms that my mother’s experience is the norm rather than the exception:
“Paralysis or the inability of a muscle to move is one of the most common disabilities resulting from stroke. As many as 9 out of 10 stroke survivors have some degree of paralysis immediately following a stroke.”
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) , one American dies of stroke every four minutes. 140,000 deaths each year are attributed to stroke – once every 40 seconds.
If you think you are having a stroke – or someone else is – seeking immediate medical attention is the best way to reduce the long-term effects of a stroke and even prevent death. The Mayo Clinic considers:
“A stroke is a medical emergency. Prompt treatment is crucial. Early action can minimize brain damage and potential complications.”
AgingCare provides the chilling statistic that “about 15 percent of people who experience a full-blown stroke (ischemic or hemorrhagic) die within 30 days.”
There are two kinds of stroke: hemorrhagic and ischemic.
Comprising approximately 80 percent of all strokes, an ischemic stroke occurs when an artery supplying the brain with blood becomes blocked (usually by a blood clot), suddenly decreasing or stopping blood flow, causing a brain infarction.
The remaining 20 percent of all strokes are termed hemorrhagic, when an artery in the brain bursts, flooding the surrounding tissue with blood, interfering both with the blood supply and the delicate chemical balance required for proper neural function.
Strokes cost the nation money, to the tune of $34 billion each year, to cover medical treatment and workplace absenteeism.
Stroke victims may experience diminishment or impairment of some or all of the following physical functions:
• Movement and sensation
• Speech and language
• Eating and swallowing
• Cognitive (thinking, reasoning, judgment, and memory) ability
• Perception and orientation to surroundings
• Self-care ability
• Bowel and bladder control
• Emotional control
• Sexual ability
You can see that this is quite a list of serious consequences to brain blood problems. Therefore, being able to recognize the onset of a stroke can save your life – and others as well.
The problem is that the signs and symptoms of an impending stroke are often misinterpreted. Most stroke symptoms are the same for both men and women:
• 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 or blurred vision in one or both eyes
• Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
• Sudden severe headache with no known cause
• General weakness or overall fatigue
• Difficulty or shortness of breath
• Nausea or vomiting
But women report additional symptoms that men typically do not:
• Loss of consciousness or fainting
• Confusion, unresponsiveness or disorientation
• Sudden behavioral change
It is far better to avoid having a stroke than dealing with its aftermath. Fortunately, there are simple ways to minimize your risk, and it should be no surprise that a lot of what you have in your control are lifestyle choices.
To prevent an ischemic stroke, keep your arteries clear of plaque by regular exercise, a healthy diet and weight, and no tobacco smoking.
To prevent a hemorrhagic stroke, keep your blood pressure down. The less pressure there is on the walls of your blood vessels, the less likely they are to burst. Meditation can help supplement medication.
When in doubt – or concern – share your symptoms with your healthcare provider. Never wait if you suspect you are having – or have had – a stroke, even a mini-stroke (transient ischemic attack or TIA).
RESPONDING TO STROKE SYMPTOMS
By the time a stroke strikes, its victim may be unable to speak, and may not even realize what is happening. This can be very dangerous, as the supply of oxygen-enriched blood stops its regular delivery. After the first signs of a stroke, seconds count.
If you think someone is having a stroke – including yourself – CALL 911 for local emergency medical care immediately.
As previously noted here, rapid response to the onset of a stroke reduces damage to the brain from oxygen deprivation, reduces the chance of death, and may also lower overall medical treatment costs.
Strike up a conversation with your loved ones about stroke. Don’t wait for an emergency to make plans. Stroke is nothing to joke about.