(Author By Dennis Kleinman) Stroke is America’s number three killer, yet it’s at the bottom of Americans’ health worries.
A recent survey by the American Stroke Association (ASA) found that only 10 out of 1,000 people – that’s 1 percent – named stroke as the health condition that most concerned them. The fear of stroke was low – only 2 percent – among those who’d had a stroke or knew someone who’d had one.
“Overall, the results are disturbing – revealing that stroke is still not a health priority for the general public,” says Vladimir Hachinski, M.D., editor in chief of Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.
“Until this changes, we can expect to see present patterns continue: lack of knowledge about stroke warning signs, lack of emergency action when stroke occurs, lack of commitment to reduce stroke risk factors and, of course, lack of progress in reducing disability.”
Every minute counts
Stroke is a medical emergency. If you suspect someone is having a stroke, dial 911 immediately. A medication can help reduce long-term disability from the most common form of stroke, but it must be administered within three hours from the onset of stroke symptoms. So, every minute counts.
Stroke accounted for about one of every 14 deaths in the United States in 1999. The ASA says in the United States, someone has a stroke every 53 seconds and someone dies of one every three minutes.
The symptoms of stroke are:
- Sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm and leg, particularly on one side
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause
A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that brings oxygen and nutrients to the brain bursts or is clogged by a blood clot or other particle. This rupture or blockage keeps part of the brain from getting the oxygen it needs. Without oxygen, nerve cells in the affected area can’t function and die within minutes. The part of the body that these brain cells control also can’t function, which can lead to disability or death.
Lower your risk factors:
- Get your blood pressure checked. You could have high blood pressure without even knowing it. Keeping your blood pressure controlled will reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Quit smoking. Smokers have a 50 percent greater risk of stroke than nonsmokers. The combination of smoking and birth control pills dramatically increases the risk of stroke for women.
- Make your diet low in fat. A low-fat diet will lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. Studies show that a low-fat diet often does not help weight control because thin people just eat more sweets.
- Stay active. Regular exercise may help to reduce blood pressure. It certainly will reduce your risk of heart disease, and now researchers say it also may decrease your risk for stroke. A study of 15,371 people performed out of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill shows those who were more active had a 49 percent lower risk of stroke than those who were sedentary. Another study of 11,000 Harvard University alumni found exercise reduced stroke risk by 50 percent.
- Follow doctor’s orders. When blood pressure medication is prescribed, take it exactly as ordered. If you experience any problems, your doctor can change the dose or prescribe one you are more comfortable with.
- If you drink, do so in moderation. More than two drinks a day can raise blood pressure, and chronic or binge drinking can actually cause stroke.
- Learn how to unwind. If you respond to stress in unhealthful ways such as overeating, smoking or excessive drinking, you are indirectly contributing to your risk of stroke.
Risk factors you can’t change
- Age: Your risk of a stroke increases as you get older. But leading a healthy lifestyle can help you minimize that risk.
- Race: African-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans and Mexican-Americans are more likely to have high blood pressure than Anglo-Americans.
- Medical risks: Diabetes and heart disease put you at greater risk of a stroke. If you’ve already had a stroke, you’re more likely to have another than someone who has never had a stroke. Also, if you have a family history of stroke, your risks are higher.
- Gender: Men are at a greater risk of stroke than premenopausal women.