May 10, 2015
Strokes are the second-leading cause of death worldwide, just behind heart disease, and the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States.
Follow-up care for patients who survive a stroke can take a toll on family who help out. Having had a stroke also puts you at a much higher risk for an additional stroke.
But the good news is there are solid, comprehensible ways to reduce your risk of stroke and help improve your health in general. There also are ways to manage your health if you’ve already had a stroke.
“Prevention has really become key with strokes,” said Dr. Azin Azma, medical director of neurology and stroke program director at MountainView Hospital.
What is a stroke?
It’s a brain attack, a disruption in blood flow to the brain, that results in the affected area of the brain not being able to do its job anymore, either temporarily or permanently. There are two general types of strokes:
These make up 90 percent of all strokes. Blood flow in the brain is blocked by a blood clot or the closing of a blood vessel.
These are more rare and result from bleeding inside the brain from a ruptured blood vessel or a ruptured brain aneurysm. The blood spills into the brain and causes pressure and swelling to nearby tissue.
Both kinds of strokes interrupt the brain’s supply of blood, which can produce a host of symptoms that could lead to temporary or permanent brain damage.
Who is at risk?
A previous stroke can make you up to 10 times more likely to suffer a second or third stroke, Azma said.
Other risk factors:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Alcohol use
- Heart disease
- Irregular, rapid heart rate
- Blood disorders
- Artery disease
“Risk factors have a cumulative effect as we age,” Azma said. However, strokes can, and do, happen in younger patients. Those often are misdiagnosed due to the patient’s age. The causes of strokes in young adults can include tears in blood vessels, inflammation of the arteries and blood clots in the venous drainage system of the brain. Certain medications, such as birth control, can contribute.
Get to a hospital immediately
Don’t wait to see if your stroke symptoms get better. “As a neurologist, our motto is: ‘Time is brain,’ ” Dr. Azin Azma said.
The faster you can get to the hospital, the better. Certain types of strokes can be treated only in the first few hours, and untreated strokes can lead to permanent damage. Call 911 for an ambulance rather than driving yourself to a hospital, going to an urgent care clinic or asking a family member or friend to drive you.
How to help prevent strokes
Poor general health accounts for many stroke risk factors. Lifestyle modifications such as losing weight and eating better, reducing blood pressure and cholesterol, and stopping smoking can be major benefits to reduce stroke risk. Having your heart examined for blood clots or an irregular heart rhythm also is important. If blood flow to the brain is impeded, a surgeon can open an artery to remove plaque buildup or place a small tube called a stent to open an artery for better blood flow.
Atrial fibrillation, or a rapid and irregular heartbeat, can lead to clotting and stroke. Doctors often prescribe blood thinning medication to reduce stroke risk. “When patients come in with a ‘mini stroke’ — a transient ischemic attack that lasts less than 24 hours and they fully recover — we take it very seriously because that’s our chance to prevent a future stroke from happening,” Dr. Azin Azma said.
A healthy diet to reduce stroke risk is similar to a heart-healthy diet: low in cholesterol and salt, with lots of fruits and vegetables. Regular exercise also helps reduce obesity and lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
This acronym is an easy way to remember stroke symptoms.
Face and Arm:
Sudden weakness or numbness
Aphasia, or an inability to speak or understand language. This also can manifest as trouble reading or writing and slurred speech.
Get to an emergency room at a stroke-certified hospital as fast as possible.
After a stroke
Rehabilitation can help a stroke sufferer recover brain function and repair damage, in some cases, or learn to cope with a loss of brain function in others.
“The key is therapy — physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, learning to use a walker or a cane, learning to feed yourself again, to read and write,” Azma said. “Our rehab facility takes care of a high number of stroke patients and has a lot of expertise in all of those services.”
What: MountainView Hospital stroke support group
When: 2 to 3 p.m. on the first Tuesday of every month
Where: MountainView H2U Office, 3150 N. Tenaya Way, Suite 114, Las Vegas