In my previous article, I outlined the different types of strokes and how they originate. Some strokes are caused by blood clots in the brain, while others are caused by formed blood clots elsewhere in the body that make their way to the brain.
If you understand how strokes are formed, then it’s also important to understand the steps you can take to prevent or reduce your risk of having a stroke. It starts with the basics:
- Diet and exercise to keep your heart healthy and minimizing the amount fatty foods in your diet.
- Know your chemistry (including your blood pressure and cholesterol level).
- Stop smoking and limit or minimize alcohol consumption.
- Talk to your doctor about atrial fibrillation (Afib), which is an abnormal heartbeat. If you experience Afib, your risk of stroke increases because of the possibility of pooled blood in the heart forming a clot, which then can lead to a stroke.
- Take the steps necessary to minimize diabetes (exercising, eating healthy).
- Notify your doctor if you have had a transient ischemic attack.
The National Stroke Association has a stroke risk questionnaire that you can fill out and then discuss your score with your doctor. Even if you are young and healthy, you should take the steps now to keep your risk level low. If you engage in risky behaviors that can lead to a stroke, you need to identify what they are so you can make the changes necessary.
It’s especially important for the average person to be aware of the signs and symptoms of a stroke. If a person is experiencing a stroke, they have up to three hours to receive a drug called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), which helps break up the blood clot, possibly preventing long term damage to the individual. The American Stroke Association gives the following warming signs of a stroke:
- Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arms, or legs especially on one side of the body.
- Confusion or trouble speaking coherently.
- Vision impairment in one or both eyes.
- Loss of balance or coordination, stumbling or dizziness.
- Sudden headache for no other medical reason.
Another way to remember the signs and symptoms of a stroke is the acronym F.A.S.T, which stands for face, arm, speech and time. If you ask the person to smile and they can only smile with one side of their face or if you ask the person to raise their arms and one arm falls down, these are signs of a stroke. If you ask the person to repeat a simple phrase and it’s followed by confusion or slurred speech, take the next step and immediately call 911. If you can, note the time of the onset of symptoms because this will help the doctors determine if tPA can be administered.
The first line of defense is prevention and making right choices that will have a positive effect on your health. Then know the signs and symptoms of a stroke. Who knows, it may be you that recognizes the signs and calls 911.