To some people it's called a "Brain Attack." To others it's more commonly known as a "Stroke." No matter how you describe it, the facts are the same: Over 750,000 Americans suffer from a stroke each year and it is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. For those who survive, it can be a major cause of disability.
A stroke is an injury to brain tissue that occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted by a blockage or narrowing of a blood vessel in the head and neck. Strokes can also be caused by bleeding from an artery or from a clot forming in the heart and being carried to the brain. Without the oxygen and important nutrients the blood provides, brain cells can be damaged or killed.
When brain cells die, an individual loses the abilities controlled by that area of the brain. This includes functions such as speech, movement, and memory. The specific abilities lost or affected depend on where in the brain the stroke occurs. Some people recover completely from less serious strokes, while others die from very severe strokes.
5 Common Symptoms of a Stroke
Strokes are treated most effectively when prompt treatment is sought. Because stroke symptoms are usually not painful, they are sometimes ignored and treatment is delayed. Learn to recognize the warning signs of a stroke and if you think you are having one, call 911.The most common stroke symptoms include:
- Sudden numbness, weakness or paralysis of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion, difficulty speaking or trouble understanding simple statements.
- Sudden blurred or decreased vision in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause
A stroke requires immediate medical care. Doctors can make an early diagnosis by studying symptoms, reviewing the patient's medical history and performing tests such as taking a three-dimensional x-ray of the brain.
Stroke patients who receive treatment at CARITAS Medical Center in Louisville benefit from a team approach.
"A multidisciplinary team has been developed at CARITAS to work with the patient who presents with stroke symptoms," explains Stephen Kirzinger, M.D., a neurologist on the Medical Staff at CARITAS Health Services and a board member with the Kentucky and Southern Indiana Stroke Association.
"The stroke team is in place to improve and monitor patient care," Kirzinger said. "In addition to the doctors, the team can include other medical personnel from the EMS technician that notifies the hospital about the patient's stroke symptoms to the hospital pharmacist who will have the medication ready. This teamwork assures the best medical care possible for the stroke patient."
Medications are an important part of stroke treatment. FDA-approved treatment for clot-caused stroke is t-PA, a drug that dissolves the blood clot and restores blood flow to the brain. To be effective, the treatment must be given within three hours of the first signs of stroke. Stroke patients who receive this drug are at least 30 percent more likely to leave the hospital with little or no disability after three months. Unfortunately, only one to three percent of those eligible for t-PA are receiving it because the average patient takes 12 to 24 hours to get to the hospital.
Reducing Your Risk of a Stroke
"The best stroke treatment is stroke prevention," Dr. Kirzinger explains. "Lower your risk of stroke by concentrating on the diet and lifestyle choices you can adjust. If you have a family history of stroke, you need to be particularly attentive to stroke symptoms." There are many conditions or risk factors that can lead to a stroke such as high blood pressure, smoking, heart disease and diabetes.
You can reduce your risk of stroke by taking the following steps:
- Eat a Healthy Diet
A diet, which includes a balance of protein, carbohydrates, vegetables and fruit, can reduce stroke risk. A recent Harvard University study concluded that eating five daily servings of fruits and vegetables might lower your risk for stroke by 30 percent. Citrus fruits and green leafy vegetables are especially helpful because of their high concentrations of folic acid, fiber and potassium.
- Exercise Regularly
Regular aerobic exercise improves all aspects of your health, because it slows down or stops the blockage of blood vessels by fatty plaque deposits. Walking, running, swimming and biking are examples of aerobic exercise. Consult your doctor for the exercise program that is right for you.
- Stop Smoking
Cigarette smoking is linked to an increased risk for stroke. Once someone stops smoking, stroke risk will drop significantly within two years. Within five years of quitting, the stroke risk may be the same as someone who has never smoked.
- Lose Weight
A sensible weight loss and exercise program is recommended for people who are at an increased risk of stroke because they are overweight. Losing weight can help control other stroke risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes.
- Control Your Blood Pressure
Because there are rarely any outward symptoms of high blood pressure, it's important to have your blood pressure checked on a regular basis.
- Control Heart Disease and High Cholesterol
A doctor may choose to treat high cholesterol or prevent coronary heart disease through diet and lifestyle changes.
- Control Your Diabetes
If untreated, diabetes can damage blood vessels throughout the body. If blood sugar levels can't be controlled with dietary changes and exercise, a physician may prescribe medication to help keep blood sugar levels in check.