Stroke Prevention: How to Lower Your Risk

Every two seconds, someone in the world has a stroke, making it the second leading cause of death globally — more than 6 million people die from stroke every year. Stroke kills more people each year than AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined. In fact, stroke is more common than most people think: one in five women and one in six men are at risk of a stroke throughout their lifetime.

For stroke survivors, serious life challenges persist, with many stroke patients living with some form of permanent disability, and facing social isolation, a lack of psychological and emotional support, and depression.

However, good news and a silver lining are close at hand. According to the American Stroke Association, 80% of strokes are preventable. The key is to raise awareness and improve education about stroke diagnosis, prevention, and treatment.

What Is a Stroke?

Stroke is a neurological emergency that carries a risk of morbidity and death. It comes about when the blood supply to the brain is impeded by the accumulation of fatty acids along the walls of an artery. Our brain cells can get damaged or be destroyed when denied oxygen-rich blood, and adversely affect the body’s core functions including:

  • Movement
  • Speech
  • Thought
  • Sensation

Stroke can occur in all age groups. Studies report the risk of stroke doubles for each decade between the ages of 55 and 85. But strokes also can happen in childhood or adolescence.  Blood circulation to the brain can be hindered in two ways and result in two types of stroke, ischemic (clots) and hemorrhagic (bleeding).

Ischemic strokes make up roughly 87% of all stroke cases. When blood vessel walls become clogged, blood flow becomes restricted and can result in blood clots or a severe narrowing of the artery in or around the brain. Uncontrolled high blood pressure is the leading cause of hemorrhagic stroke. When an artery deteriorates and bursts, blood pools into the brain causing damage to the tissues and cells.

What Are the Warning Signs of a Stroke?

About 70% of patients do not correctly recognize their transient ischemic attack (TIA) or minor stroke, and almost 30% put off seeking medical attention for more than twenty-four hours. What’s worse, 30% of early recurrent strokes happen before seeking medical care.

In the presence of a stroke, your body will send some clear signs to sound the alarm:

  • Drooping facial muscles
  • Sudden weakness or numbing in the arms or legs, particularly on one side of the body
  • Slurred speech and difficulty understanding others
  • Sudden vision difficulties in one or both eyes
  • Abrupt onset of dizziness or trouble walking
  • Sudden severe headache for no apparent reason

If you notice one or more of these signs, urgent action is required. A stroke is a medical emergency, and you should call an ambulance or get to a hospital right away.

Immediate Stroke Treatment Is Critical

When it comes to saving lives and restoring quality of life, early recognition and treatment are vital to a patient’s well being and full recovery. Here’s why:

Research shows that stroke patients recover better when they receive care in a specialized stroke unit under the supervision of a specially trained team.

The first line of defense for ischemic stroke is to take a clot-breaking medication known as tPA (tissue Plasminogen Activator) which can help increase blood circulation in clogged blood vessels and in some cases reverse the effects from stroke. The medication can be given up to 4.5 hours after the onset of stroke symptoms. Patients can also undergo an endovascular thrombectomy (EVT), an innovative procedure using x-ray guided imaging to take out large blood clots near the brain.

Hemorrhagic stroke typically cannot be treated with tPA or other clot-busting medications, and the recovery time is often longer than with an ischemic stroke. Your doctor may recommend surgery to repair the damaged artery in your brain and to stop any bleeding.

The rehabilitation process begins once you are stable and may continue for months or even years. Every individual’s recovery period will depend on their family and medical history, and lifestyle.

Stroke Prevention

Research shows that 25% of stroke survivors will have a recurring stroke at some point in their lives. However, patients can take control of their health to reduce the risk of having another stroke. Enhanced public awareness and education are needed to realize the full potential for stroke prevention.

Treatments to prevent further stroke include:

  • Medications that lower blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Antiplatelet therapies
  • Anticoagulation medication
  • Surgery for patients with severe carotid artery restriction

Knowing your personal risk factors can help minimize your chances of a stroke as can making lifestyle choices such as:

  • Eating a healthy, low-salt, and well-balanced diet
  • Staying active and exercising regularly
  • Not smoking
  • Limiting alcohol consumption

To learn more about how to treat or prevent stroke, please feel free to contact us. We’ll be happy to answer your questions and address any of your concerns.