A Stroke of Bad Luck
A stroke occurs when the blood supply to a part of your brain is interrupted or severely reduced, depriving brain tissue of oxygen and nutrients. Within a few minutes, brain cells begin to die.
Stroke is a medical emergency, and prompt treatment of a stroke is crucial. Early treatment can minimise damage to your brain and potential stroke complications.
The good news is that strokes can be treated, and fewer people now die of strokes than was the case 20 or 30 years ago. Improvement in the control of major risk factors for stroke high blood pressure, smoking and high cholesterol is likely responsible for the decline.
Watch for these stroke symptoms if you think you or someone else is having a stroke:
* Trouble with walking. If you're having a stroke, you may stumble or have sudden dizziness, loss of balance or loss of coordination.
* Trouble with speaking. If you're having a stroke, you may slur your speech or may not be able to come up with words to explain what is happening (aphasia). Try to repeat a simple sentence. If you can't, you may be having a stroke.
* Paralysis or numbness on one side of the body. If you're having a stroke, you may have sudden numbness, weakness or paralysis on one side of the body. Try to raise both your arms over your head at the same time. If one arm begins to fall, you may be having a stroke.
* Trouble with seeing. If you're having a stroke, you may suddenly have blurred or blackened vision or may see double.
* Headache. A sudden, severe "bolt out of the blue" headache or an unusual headache, which may be accompanied by a stiff neck, facial pain, pain between your eyes, vomiting or altered consciousness, sometimes indicates you're having a stroke.
For most people, a stroke gives no warning. But one possible sign of an impending stroke is a transient ischemic attack (TIA). A TIA is a temporary interruption of blood flow to a part of your brain. The signs and symptoms of TIA are the same as for a stroke, but they last for a shorter period several minutes to 24 hours and then disappear, without leaving apparent permanent effects. You may have more than one TIA, and the recurrent signs and symptoms may be similar or different.
A TIA may indicate that you're at risk of a full-blown stroke. People who have had a TIA are much more likely to have a stroke than are those who haven't had a TIA.
When to see a doctor
If you notice any signs or symptoms of a stroke or TIA, get medical help right away. A TIA may seem like a passing event. But it's an important warning sign and a chance to take steps that may prevent a stroke.
If someone appears to be having a stroke, watch the person carefully while waiting for an ambulance. You may need to take additional actions in the following situations:
* If the person stops breathing, begin mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
* If vomiting occurs, turn the person's head to the side. This can prevent choking.
* Don't let the person eat or drink anything.
Every minute counts when it comes to treating a stroke or TIA. In fact, sometimes a stroke is referred to as a "brain attack" to convey that, similar to a heart attack, quick care is important. So, don't wait to see if the signs and symptoms go away. The longer a stroke goes untreated, the greater the damage and potential disability. The success of most stroke treatments depends on how soon a person is seen by a doctor in a hospital emergency room after signs and symptoms begin.
Many factors can increase your risk of a stroke. A number of these factors can also increase your chances of having a heart attack. Stroke risk factors include:
* A family history of stroke, heart attack or TIA
* Being age 55 or older
* High blood pressure a systolic blood pressure of 140 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or higher, or a diastolic pressure of 90 mm Hg or higher
* High cholesterol a total cholesterol level of 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), or 5.2 mmol/L, or higher
* Cigarette smoking
* Obesity a body mass index of 30 or higher
* Cardiovascular disease, including heart failure, a heart defect, heart infection, or abnormal heart rhythm
* Previous stroke or TIA
* High levels of homocysteine, an amino acid, in your blood
* Use of birth control pills or other hormone therapy
Other factors that can increase your risk of stroke include heavy or binge drinking and the use of illicit drugs such as cocaine.
Although men and women have strokes at about the same rate, women more often die of strokes than do men. Blacks are more likely to have strokes than are people of other races.
Knowing your risk factors and adopting a healthy lifestyle are the best steps you can take to prevent a stroke. In general, a healthy lifestyle means that you:
* Control high blood pressure (hypertension). One of the most important things you can do to reduce your stroke risk is to keep your blood pressure under control. If you've had a stroke, lowering your blood pressure can help prevent a subsequent transient ischemic attack or stroke. Exercising, managing stress, maintaining a healthy weight, and limiting sodium and alcohol intake are all ways to keep high blood pressure in check. In addition to recommendations for lifestyle changes, your doctor may prescribe medications to treat high blood pressure, such as diuretics, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers.
* Lower your cholesterol and saturated fat intake. Eating less cholesterol and fat, especially saturated fat, may reduce the plaques in your arteries. If you can't control your cholesterol through dietary changes alone, your doctor may prescribe a cholesterol-lowering medication.
* Don't smoke. Quitting smoking reduces your risk of stroke. Several years after quitting, a former smoker's risk of stroke is the same as that of a nonsmoker.
* Control diabetes. You can manage diabetes with diet, exercise, weight control and medication. Strict control of your blood sugar may reduce damage to your brain if you do have a stroke.
* Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight contributes to other risk factors for stroke, such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Weight loss of as little as 10 pounds may lower your blood pressure and improve your cholesterol levels.
* Exercise regularly. Aerobic exercise reduces your risk of stroke in many ways. Exercise can lower your blood pressure, increase your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and improve the overall health of your blood vessels and heart. It also helps you lose weight, control diabetes and reduce stress. Gradually work up to 30 minutes of activity such as walking, jogging, swimming or bicycling on most, if not all, days of the week.
* Manage stress. Stress can cause a temporary spike in your blood pressure a risk factor for brain hemorrhage or long-lasting hypertension. It can also increase your blood's tendency to clot, which may elevate your risk of ischemic stroke. Simplifying your life, exercising and using relaxation techniques are all approaches that you can learn to reduce stress.
* Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. Alcohol can be both a risk factor and a preventive measure for stroke. Binge drinking and heavy alcohol consumption increase your risk of high blood pressure and of ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes. However, drinking small to moderate amounts of alcohol can increase your HDL cholesterol and decrease your blood's clotting tendency. Both factors can contribute to a reduced risk of ischemic stroke.
* Don't use illicit drugs. Many street drugs, such as cocaine and crack cocaine, are established risk factors for a TIA or a stroke.
Follow a healthy diet
In addition, eat healthy foods. A brain-healthy diet should include:
* Five or more daily servings of fruits and vegetables, which contain nutrients such as potassium, folate and antioxidants that may protect you against stroke.
* Foods rich in soluble fiber, such as oatmeal and beans.
* Foods rich in calcium, a mineral found to reduce stroke risk.
* Soy products, such as tempeh, miso, tofu and soy milk, which can reduce your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and raise your HDL cholesterol level.
* Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including cold-water fish, such as salmon, mackerel and tuna.
Source: Mayo Clinic Online
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