Do you know how to think FAST about strokes? Strokes are very common in the US, with over 200k occurring per year. Strokes occur when blood flow to an area of the brain is cut off. During this time, brain cells are starved of oxygen and begin to die. Where the brain cells die affects the outcome. For instance, a stroke can cause muscle control loss, memory loss, or speech difficulties depending on the location.
In general, strokes are usually caused by clots or a hemorrhage (a burst blood vessel in the brain). It’s important to get to a hospital as soon as possible because some hospitals have a “clot buster” that can really help. The hospital will run tests to determine if you are having a stroke, and if so, what type of stroke it is. This determines your treatment. A quicker response can help moderate the symptoms. So think FAST!
F: facial drooping – ask someone to smile and see if it’s even.
A: arms – lift arms above your head, looking for symmetry
S: speech – may not be able to understand speech or have problems talking
T: time – time is essential. Take note of the time and hurry to your nearest ER or EMS.
When blood flow to part of the brain stops for a short period of time, it is known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA), or more commonly, a mini-stroke. This causes stroke-like symptoms. However, these symptoms appear and last less than 24 hours. TIAs should be taken seriously as this indicates you are at a higher risk for a more severe stroke.
If you look at this picture, it was taken when I was having severe issues with my blood pressure. I was feeling very odd, and I had been monitoring my blood pressure. This time, it was around 170/95. (Normal should be below 120/80). I acted FAST and had my friend take this picture. When you look at the smile, the right side of my mouth is dropping, and my cheeks are less full on that side. I also started having a hard time talking, and I was slurring my words a bit. Shortly after, I was temporarily put on blood pressure medication.
So what increases your risk for stroke? There are several risk factors, and the more you have, the higher your risk. Some can be controlled, while others cannot. Here are some major risk factors:
- High blood pressure – this is a main risk factor. High blood pressure is considered 140/90. If you have diabetes or chronic kidney disease, it is defined as 130/80.
- Diabetes – this disease causes high blood sugar levels because the body cannot make enough insulin, or it cannot use insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone that helps move blood sugar into cells where it is used as energy.
- Heart diseases – any of the following conditions can increase your risk for blood clots, which can lead to a stroke: coronary heart disease, cardiomyopathy, heart failure, and atrial fibrillation.
- Age and gender – as you age, your risk for stroke increases. Men are more likely to have strokes, but women are more likely to die from strokes. Women who take birth control pills are a slightly higher risk for stroke.
- Race and ethnicity – strokes occurs more often in African American, Alaska Native, and American Indian adults than in white, Hispanic, or Asian American adults.
- Personal/family history of stroke or TIA – if you’ve had a stroke, you’re at higher risk for another, especially right after a stroke occurs. As mentioned previously, TIAs increase stroke risk as well as a family history of stroke or TIA.
- Brain aneurysms or arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) – aneurysms are balloon-like bulges in an artery that can burst or stretch. AVMs are groups of faulty blood vessels that can break open within the brain. They can be present at birth, but they often aren’t caught until they rupture.
These risk factors for stroke you may often be able to control:
- Smoking – this can damage blood vessels and increase blood pressure. It also reduces the oxygen that reaches your body’s tissue. Even if you don’t smoke, secondhand smoke can cause this damage. many of which of you can control, include:
- Alcohol and illegal drug use (cocaine, amphetamines, and other drugs)
- Certain medical conditions like sickle cell disease, vasculitis (inflamed blood vessels), and bleeding disorders
- Lack of physical activity
- Being overweight or obese
- High levels of stress or depression
- Unhealthy cholesterol levels and/or diet
- Using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), but not aspirin, may increase the risk of heart attack or stroke, especially if you have a history of heart attack or cardiac bypass surgery. The risk may increase the longer NSAIDs are used. Common NSAIDs include ibuprofen and naproxen.
What questions do you have about strokes? Do you need to decrease your risk? Feel free to ask! I will answer what I can, and I will direct you to additional resources.