Is it a stroke? BE FAST!
BE FAST is an acronym to help you quickly recognize common signs of a stroke and to take any necessary action by calling for emergency medical services. Other symptoms may include, sudden and severe unexplained headache or migraine with no obvious cause, and confusion or trouble understanding things they would normally know.
Do they have problems standing or moving? Are they dizzy?
Do they have loss of vision in one or both eyes? Maybe a portion of one eye?
Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile uneven or lopsided?
Is one arm weak or numb? Have the person raise their arms.
Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Is the person able to correctly repeat what you are saying?
Time to Call 9-1-1
If someone shows one, some or all of these symptoms, even if symptoms pass, call 9-1-1 and tell them you think the person is having a stroke. This can help get the person to the hospital immediately. Each second is important and could mean brain loss.
What is a stroke?
A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot (called an ischemic stroke) or ruptures (called a hemorrhagic stroke). When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood and oxygen it needs.
In addition to ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes, a person could also experience a “mini-stroke” referred to as a TIA (transient ischemic attack) which is caused by a temporary clot. In any of these situations, it is important to make sure you get to a hospital as quickly as possible.
80% of strokes are preventable by knowing your risk factors and adopting healthy habits. To help lower your risk of stroke, focus on these simple steps you can control.*
As always, every individuals’ experience and situation is different, so we advise you to consult with your physician to understand your personal risk factors and how to manage them. Diet and exercise recommendations vary from case to case as well, please consult with your physician on your specific needs and restrictions.
HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE
If you have high blood pressure (or hypertension), know your numbers and keep them low. High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke and the most significant controllable risk factor for stroke. Many scientists attribute our current decline in stroke-related deaths to the successful treatment of high blood pressure.
If you smoke cigarettes, take steps to stop. Recent studies confirm that cigarette smoking is another crucial risk factor for stroke. The nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke damage the cardiovascular system and pave the way for a stroke to occur. Additionally, the use of birth control pills combined with cigarette smoking can greatly increase the risk of stroke. Quit smoking now and lower risks.
If you have diabetes (Type 1 or 2), keep blood sugar controlled. Diabetes Mellitus is an independent risk factor for stroke. Many people with diabetes also have high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and are overweight. This increases their risk even more. While diabetes is treatable, the presence of the disease still increases your risk of stroke.
If your diet is poor, eat foods that improve your heart and brain health. Diets high in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol can raise blood cholesterol levels. Diets high in sodium (salt) can increase blood pressure. Diets with high calories can lead to obesity. Also, a diet containing five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day may reduce the risk of stroke.
If you’re physically inactive, start moving and being more active. Physical inactivity can increase your risk of stroke, heart disease, becoming overweight, developing high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and diabetes, heart disease and stroke. So go on a brisk walk, take the stairs, and do whatever you can to make your life more active. Try to get a total of at least 30 minutes of activity on most or all days.
If you’re obese or overweight, take steps to get your body mass into a healthy range. Excess body weight and obesity are linked with an increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Losing as little as 5 to 10 pounds can make a significant difference in your risks. Even if weight control has been a lifelong challenge, start by taking small steps today to manage your weight and lower risks.
HIGH BLOOD CHOLESTEROL
If you have high blood cholesterol, get it under control. People with high blood cholesterol have an increased risk for stroke. Large amounts of cholesterol in the blood can build up and cause blood clots, leading to a stroke. Also, it appears that low HDL (“good”) cholesterol is a risk factor for stroke in men, but more data is needed to verify if this is true for women as well.
CAROTID ARTERY DISEASE
If you have carotid artery disease or other artery disease, get treatment to lower your risks. The carotid arteries in your neck supply blood to your brain. A carotid artery narrowed by fatty deposits from atherosclerosis (plaque build ups in artery walls) may become blocked by a blood clot. Because they’re located so close to the brain, carotid arteries may more easily cause a stroke, but any artery disease may contribute to a stroke.
PERIPHERAL ARTERY DISEASE
If you have peripheral artery disease or PAD, get treatment to lower your risks. PAD is the narrowing of blood vessels carrying blood to leg and arm muscles. It’s caused by fatty buildups of plaque in artery walls. People with peripheral artery disease have a higher risk of carotid artery disease, which raises their risk of stroke.
If you have atrial fibrillation (AFib), know your AFib-Stroke risks and keep them low. AFib (a heart rhythm disorder) increases stroke risks fivefold. That’s because it causes the heart’s upper chambers to beat incorrectly, which can allow the blood pool and clot to travel to the brain and cause a stroke. A resulting clot can travel to the brain and cause a stroke. If you have AFib, know your stroke risks. If you’re at risk, get treatment to keep risks low. Also, sleep apnea can be linked to AFib and is associated with increased stroke risks.
OTHER HEART DISEASE
If you have other heart disease, manage related conditions and work with your healthcare provider. People who have coronary heart disease or heart failure are at higher risk of stroke than people who have healthy hearts. Dilated cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart), heart valve disease and some types of congenital heart defects can also raise the risk of stroke.
SICKLE CELL DISEASE
If you have sickle cell disease (also called sickle cell anemia), seek treatment early. This treatable genetic disorder mainly affects African-American and Hispanic children. “Sickled” red blood cells are less able to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues and organs. These cells also tend to stick to blood vessel walls, which can block arteries to the brain and cause a stroke.
80% of stroke are preventable, but what about the 20% that are not?
You can’t control some risk factors, but being aware they exist may motivate you to focus on the ones you can control.
The likelihood of having a stroke nearly doubles every 10 years after age 55. Although stroke is more common among the elderly, a lot of people under 65 also have strokes. Even babies and children can sometimes have a stroke.
A family history of stroke can raise your risk.
If your parent, grandparent, sister or brother has had a stroke — especially before reaching age 65 — you may be at greater risk. Sometimes strokes are caused by genetic disorders like CADASIL, which can block blood flow in the brain.
Race can make a difference.
Statistics show that African-Americans have a much higher risk of death from a stroke than Caucasians do. This is partly because blacks have higher risks of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. Visit our Empowered to Serve program to learn more. Hispanics and latinos also have unique risks for stroke.
Your gender can affect your risks
Each year, women have more strokes than men, and stroke kills more women than men, too. Factors that may increase stroke risks for women include: pregnancy, history of preeclampsia/eclampsia or gestational diabetes, oral contraceptive use (especially when combined with smoking) and post-menopausal hormone therapy. Be sure to discuss your specific risks with your doctor.
Prior stroke, TIA or heart attack can raise your risk
A person who has had a prior stroke has a much higher risk of having another stroke than a person who has never had one. Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), also known as mini-strokes, are also strong predictors of a major stroke. TIAs are smaller, temporary blockages in the brain that can produce milder forms of stroke-like symptoms, but may not leave lasting damage. A person who’s had one or more TIAs is almost 10 times more likely to have a major stroke than someone of the same age and sex who hasn’t. Recognizing and treating TIAs can reduce your risk of a major stroke. TIA should be considered a medical emergency and followed up immediately with a healthcare professional. If you’ve had a prior heart attack, you’re at higher risk of having a stroke, too. A heart attack is a plaque buildup that causes blockages in the blood vessels to the heart. Similarly, most strokes are caused by buildup of plaque that cause blockages in the brain.
*Credit: American Stroke Association; www.strokeassociation.org