Monday, September 10, 2007
Steamboat Springs There are many myths surrounding the topic of stroke. Many people believe stroke is unpreventable. This is false. Stroke is largely preventable by following healthy lifestyle habits and possibly using medical treatment.
Some believe stroke cannot be treated. Also false. Stroke requires emergency treatment.
Another myth: Stroke strikes only the elderly. False again. Stroke can happen to anyone, young or old, male or female.
Lastly, there is a myth that stroke happens to the heart. This is false, as well. Stroke is a "brain attack."
Stroke is the third-leading cause of death for Americans and the leading cause of death for women. It strikes suddenly and decisively. About 20 percent of strokes are fatal, and most of the rest leave the patient with at least some disability. Yet, most Americans fail to realize the seriousness of stroke and what they can do to protect themselves.
A "brain attack" occurs because of faulty blood circulation to the brain. An ischemic stroke, the most common kind, is caused by a clot or other blockage of a blood vessel in the brain or in the neck leading to the brain. About 20 percent of strokes are hemorrhagic, caused by uncontrolled bleeding into the brain or the spaces surrounding the brain.
Like a heart attack, a stroke is a medical emergency. Any delay in treatment can mean irreversible damage, resulting in disabilities.
Symptoms of stroke include sudden numbness or weakness, especially on one side of the body, sudden confusion and trouble speaking or understanding, blindness or trouble seeing in one eye or both, trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination and a sudden, severe, unexplained headache.
A stroke can occur at any age but becomes increasingly likely with advancing age. A family history of stroke also increases the risk, and African Americans are particularly vulnerable.
If you have above-average risk, you should be vigilant about early signs. The major risk factors for stroke are lifestyle matters that everyone should try to control. These include the following: high blood pressure, diabetes, tobacco use, high blood cholesterol, obesity, heart disease, atrial fibrillation and transient ischemic attacks.
To reduce your risks of stroke, get an annual check-up with your doctor or health care provider. Follow a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and low in sodium and saturated fats.
Avoid tobacco; nicotine increases blood pressure. Other substances in tobacco damage blood vessels and reduce the amount of oxygen carried to the brain.
In addition to diet and tobacco avoidance, incorporate exercise into your daily routine and try to maintain a healthy body weight. These lifestyle measures will help keep your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels in a healthy range which can minimize the risk of stroke.
Remember that risk factors are cumulative. Reducing even one risk factor can greatly lower your chances of having a stroke. You can reduce your risk of stroke - if you want to.
The first step is to work with your health care provider to evaluate your risk factors. Next, develop a plan to change those risk factors that are increasing your risk. A healthy lifestyle is up to you.