Empowering Yourself Against Stroke: What You Need to Know

May is Stroke Awareness Month

What Causes a Stroke?

There are three different kinds of stroke, all of which cause the same problem – depriving the brain of the oxygen and nutrients it needs to survive.

  • An ischemic stroke (more than 85% of all strokes) is caused by a blockage in an artery carrying blood into the brain.
  • A transient ischemic attack, or TIA, is a brief ischemic stroke. Though symptoms pass quickly, a TIA requires medical attention because, statistically, the risk is high that another stroke will occur soon.
  • A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel inside the brain leaks or bursts.

What Does a Stroke Look Like?

As common as strokes are, more than 70% of people wouldn’t recognize one. If even one of these symptoms is present, stroke is likely.

F: FACE – changes, including paralysis or drooping.

A: ARM – weakness and inability to control movement.

S: SPEECH – slurring, language loss or difficulty speaking.

T: TIME is of the essence! Cal 9-1-1 immediately!

Children & Young People Get Strokes Too

Though it’s still rare, the number of young stroke victims is growing. Stroke now ranks in the top 10 causes of death in children in the U.S.

  • The highest risk for infant stroke is right before, during, and after childbirth. A child’s greatest risk of stroke is in the first year of life.
  • A birth defect called arteriovenous malformation in the brain is the most common cause of stroke in children and teens.
  • Substance abuse, most particularly the use of intravenous drugs and/or cocaine, can substantially raise stroke risk in teens and young adults. Pregnancy, the use of oral contraceptives and smoking also elevate stroke risk in young people.

Women & Stroke

Women have more strokes than men, accounting for six out of 10 stroke deaths. Women also suffer greater impairment and are more likely to die from stroke than men. Particular risk factors for women include:

  • Giving birth after age 40. This brings a 1.4% higher lifetime risk for having an ischemic stroke and a .5% higher risk for a hemorrhagic stroke.
  • In obese or overweight women, taking birth control pills. This raises risk for a rare type of stroke called cerebral venous thrombosis (CVT).
  • Having migraines with visual symptoms (called “aura”). This raises stroke risk 2.4 times, especially in young women. Migraine with aura is also a red flag indicating higher stroke risk for older (menopausal) women who take hormone replacement.

Preventing Stroke

You’ve heard this advice before but – the best way to lower the likelihood that you’ll suffer a stroke is to live a healthy lifestyle. Follow a healthy diet, get plenty of exercise, keep your weight healthy, manage stress, limit alcohol consumption and – importantly – don’t smoke. Other stroke prevention advice includes:

  • Avoid overworking yourself. Working 55 hours/week or more raises stroke risk by 33%. This is worrisome, given that the average American workweek has now grown to 47 hours.
  • Try Tai Chi. Combining gentle movement with meditative breathing, tai chi helps to regulate blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  • Be social. Loneliness and isolation raise stroke risk by 32%. This is especially a problem for elderly people, who may be retired, living alone and unable to drive.
  • Take necessary measures to improve sleep. Sleep fragmentation (awakening often throughout the night) can cause arterial stiffness in the brain, leading to oxygen-deprivation and higher stroke risk for older people.
  • Eat lots of fresh produce – especially white-fleshed fruits and vegetables. Researchers report that bananas, pears, apples, mushrooms and cauliflower are even more protective against stroke.