Each year, life changes in an instant for more than 800,000 Americans who experience a stroke. A stroke can be treated successfully when recognized early. It is important to know the risk factors that may trigger a stroke and what to do if you or someone close to you begins to experience signs and symptoms.
What is a Stroke
A stroke, or "brain attack," begins when a brain artery or an artery leading to the brain becomes blocked or bursts. This disrupts blood flow to a part of the brain. If blood cannot get to the brain for as little as four to six minutes, brain cells stop working and begin to die.
You have three hours to see treatment from the time you start to experience stroke symptoms. Treatment by a stroke specialists within three hours gives you a greater chance for survival and decreased chance of becoming disabled.
Signs and Symptoms of Stroke
If you start to experience any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately:
- A sudden, severe headache with no apparent cause
- Sudden blurred vision, or decreased vision, in one or both eyes
- Sudden weakness or numbness in your face, arm or leg on one side of your body
- Trouble speaking or understanding simple statements
- Sudden dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
Other important but less common symptoms may include:
- Sudden onset nausea and vomiting over minutes or hours
- Brief loss of consciousness or a period of decreased consciousness
Use the FAST test to see if someone is having a stroke.
- (F)ACE. Ask the person to smile. Check to see if one side of the face drops.
- (A)RMS. Ask the person to raise both arms. See if one arm drifts downward.
- (S)PEECH. Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Check to see if words are slurred and if the sentence is repeated correctly.
- (T)IME. If a person shows any of these symptoms, time is essential. It is important to get to the hospital as quickly as possible. Call 911 immediately.
Risk Factors for Stroke
Strokes are generally caused by risk factors that are ignored over time. The following risk factors can be controlled with the help of your physician.
- High blood pressure. Have your blood pressure checked regularly. High blood pressure is one of the leading risk factors for stroke. The ideal blood pressure is around 120/80.
- High cholesterol. High cholesterol puts you at risk for heart disease. Your combined HDL ("good") and LDL ("bad) cholesterol should be below 200.
- Heart disease.
- Diabetes. Approximately 20 percent of people with diabetes have a stroke. Maintain a blood sugar less than 100.
- Smoking. Smoking damages blood vessel walls, increasing your blood pressure, which can lead to a stroke. Within five years of quitting, your risk decreases to that of someone who doesn't smoke.
- Heavy alcohol use. Drink no more than one glass of wine or beer per day.
- Obesity. Eat a diet low in sodium and fat. Moderate physical activity is recommended 30 minutes a day at least five days per week.
- Family History. If an immediate family member has a history of circulatory problems or stroke, you are at an increased risk.
- Age. People age 50 and older are at a higher risk for stroke than someone younger.