Am I at risk of having a stroke?“Patients who are diabetic, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, and patients who smoke are more likely to have strokes,” said Robert Hoesch, MD, medical director for the stroke program at Intermountain Medical Center. “But anyone, even people who are relatively young and healthy, could potentially have a stroke.”
While you can’t do much about risk factors related to your age, gender or family history, there are four important things you can do to lower your risk of stroke — and improve your overall health:
- Stop smoking. If you smoke, quitting now will dramatically improve your health today and in the future. It will lower your chance of stroke as well as many other serious medical conditions. Read more about how to quit.
- Maintain a healthy weight. This will help you control your blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes — and lower your chance of heart disease and stroke. Talk to your doctor or a dietitian about how to lose weight safely, slowly, and permanently.
- Exercise. Physical activity protects your heart, brain, and bones. It makes you stronger, gives you more energy, and helps you cope with daily stress. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week. The 30 minutes could also be broken up throughout your day: take the stairs instead of an elevator, park at the end of parking lots, walk the dog, etc.
- See your doctor regularly. Your doctor can check for "silent" stroke risk factors like high blood pressure and help you manage any chronic illnesses such as diabetes.
How do I know I’m having a stroke?
You can use the acronym BE FAST to remember the signs of a stroke, and also to remind yourself that if you have these symptoms you’d better BE FAST and call 911. The letters stand for:
B: Balance - sudden dizziness or loss of balance or coordination
E: Eyes - sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
F: Face - sudden weakness of the face (Does one side of your face droop?)
A: Arm - weakness of an arm or leg
S: Speech - sudden difficulty speaking
T: Time - time the symptoms started
“For every second that blood flow is interrupted to the brain, approximately 32,000 brain cells dies,” said Dr. Hoesch. “So our mantra in stroke care is ‘time is brain.’ What that means is, shorter time to treatment translates to less disability. If you think you’re having a stroke call 911 and get to the hospital as soon as possible.”
What if my symptoms go away in a few minutes? Am I ok?
A transient ischemic attack (TIA), sometimes called a "mini stroke," causes the same symptoms as a stroke but is temporary and doesn't cause permanent damage. But there is nothing “mini” about it — people who have a TIA are very likely to have a much larger stroke soon. If you have stroke-like symptoms that go away, you may have had a TIA.
“A TIA is a warning sign that often happens before a stroke and should not be ignored,” Dr. Hoesch said. “If you think you've had a TIA, talk with your doctor right away or go to the emergency room.”
Remember, a stroke is a brain attack that requires immediate medical attention. Know the warning signs and get help immediately if you experience them.