Most everyone has heard of a stroke, but there are a lot of mistaken perceptions of what a stroke actually is and what leads to one. It is important to know the facts so that you can keep yourself and your loved ones safe in an emergency situation.
A stroke is a medical condition caused by one or more blocked blood vessels in the brain. A stroke can also be caused by bleeding in the brain. Any interruptions in the blood flow within the brain can cause a drop in the control over a range of bodily functions. Speech, movement and perception are most often affected.
Strokes are currently the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, behind heart disease, cancer and lung disease. It is also a leading cause of disability, second only to Alzheimer’s.
What Causes a Stroke?
Different types of strokes are caused by different things. What is known is an ischemic stroke is caused by a blood clot. The clot can be formed when a vessel narrows due to plaque buildup from hardening of the arteries.
An embolic stroke is caused by a blood clot that can form anywhere in the body and move in the vessels. Only when the clot reaches the brain does it actually do damage.
Strokes caused by bleeding in the brain often occur when a vessel or artery ruptures, as in the case of an aneurysm.
What are the Risk Factors?
The majority of people who experience strokes are 60 years old or older. There are both medical and lifestyle risk factors that can influence the likelihood that someone will experience a stroke, many of which you can change.
Medical risk factors include:
High blood pressure
High blood pressure is recognized as the most common indicator and contributor to strokes. An ideal blood pressure reading would be 120/80. Have your blood pressure checked regularly, and if you take regulating medications, be sure that you take them as prescribed.
High cholesterol (any total number above 200) is a concern and can be addressed with your doctor. It can often be controlled with diet and exercise, but if that is not successful, there are medications to assist.
Lifestyle risk factors include:
Diet and nutrition
Tobacco use and smoking
Smoking can double the risk of stroke. Smoking can increase clot formation and thicken the blood, both of which can increase stroke risk.
It has been suggested that moderate alcohol use can yield positive health results, but more than that can become a risk factor. Moderate intake means two drinks per day for men and one per day for women.
Symptoms of a Stroke
It is important to know the symptoms of a stroke so that if you or a loved one experience any of them, you can seek professional help.
Weakness or numbness on one side of the face, arm or leg
Loss of vision, coordination, speech, or ability to understand speech
Loss of balance, accompanied by nausea or fever
Sudden, severe headache, followed by a loss of consciousness
Calling 911 quickly can make all the difference after one or more of these symptoms. Some stroke treatments need to begin as quickly as possible.
Adopt a Healthy Lifestyle
While knowing what to look for and how to respond to a stroke is important, the best path is to adopt a healthy lifestyle and to work at avoiding the triggers to having a stroke. Maintain a healthy weight and keep active. Eat heart-healthy foods, and make sure your blood pressure and cholesterol are in the target ranges.
Becoming healthy in general is the best stroke prevention possible.
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