The American Heart Association together with the American Stroke Association dedicates the month of May to further educating and informing the public about strokes. Stroke is the number five cause of death and the leading cause of disability in the U.S. But, did you know that the risk for stroke doubles each decade after the age of 55? In honor of Stroke Awareness Month, let's take a closer look at the risk factors, effects, diagnosis and treatment.
As mentioned above, your chance of having a stroke increases with age. However, there are several other factors that could make you more at risk as well. Strokes can be hereditary, so your risk may be greater if a parent, grandparent or sibling has suffered from a stroke. African-Americans are more likely to suffer from a stroke than Caucasians. This is partly associated with the fact that African-Americans are at higher risk for diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure as well. Every year, more women suffer from and die from strokes. There are many sub-factors associated with this, such as use of birth control, pregnancy and smoking. The last major factor is prior stroke or heart attack.
The effects of a stroke largely depend on the location of the obstruction within the brain and to what extent the tissue was damaged. If a stroke occurs on the left side of the brain, the right side of the body will be affected and vice versa. Left side damage commonly results in paralysis on the right side of the body, speech and language problems, memory loss and cautious behavior. Damage on the right side usually results in paralysis on the left side of the body, vision problems, memory loss and quick, inquisitive behavior. If a stroke occurs in the brain stem, this may leave the victim in a "locked-in" state in which they cannot speak or make any movements below the neck.
When a doctor believes a patient has suffered from a stroke, he or she will gather that patient's medical history, conduct a physical and neurological exam, call for a CT or MRI, or order blood tests. There are different types of diagnostic tests, most of which are safe and painless. The three categories are imaging tests, electrical tests and blood flow tests.
Strokes are caused by brain vessel rupture or a blood clot. Treatments seek to specifically mend these issues. Strokes are mostly preventable, treatable and beatable. Specifically, 80 percent of strokes are preventable through managing risk factors. In addition to the factors listed above, smoking, physical inactivity and high blood pressure can also contribute to your risk for stroke. Either medication or medical procedures can help solve high blood pressure. Examples are aspirin, anticoagulants or antihypertensives and carotid artery surgery or angioplasty surgery. The most critical component of treatment for stroke, however, is to seek medical attention immediately.
As the elderly in our community are more at risk for stroke, take the month of May to help them reevaluate their prevention tactics. Take your elderly loved one to the doctor to consider preventable methods, strive to increase their physical activity and encourage them to quit smoking.