Stroke Awareness: What It Means For Your Brain

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What is a Stroke?

According to the American Stroke Association, stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and the leading cause of disability in the United States. The brain receives 20% of the body’s blood supply. The vast network of blood vessels inside of the brain carries oxygen, glucose and other nutrients essential to proper brain function.  A stroke is a condition that affects the arteries within and leading into the brain. A stroke occurs when either a clot or a rupture blocks a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain. Obstruction of vessels prevents the brain from receiving blood and oxygen, and causes blood cells to die. 

Cognitive Impairment Due to Stroke

Certain parts of the brain control specific parts of the body. When a stroke occurs in a certain region of the brain, it will affect a particular body function. For example, the frontal lobe located at the front of the brain is responsible for executive or cognitive functions such as attention, planning, organizing, problem solving, behavior control and personality. A person who suffers a stroke in the frontal lobe may have trouble making decisions, suffer from memory loss and experience a change in their behavior or personality.

Signs and Symptoms of a Stroke – Act F.A.S.T

FAST is an acronym used to help easily identify and respond to the needs of a person experiencing symptoms of a stroke:

F = Face drooping            Does one side of the face droop or feel numb? Ask the person to smile. Look for an uneven or lopsided smile.

A = Arm Weakness         Ask the person to raise both arms. Check to see if one arm falls back down.

S = Speech difficulties   Is the person having difficulty speaking or slurring words?

T = Time to call 9-1-1      If the person is experiencing any of these symptoms, call 911 or get them to a hospital right away.

Other symptoms include a sudden and serve headache, confusion, numbness, trouble seeing out of one or both eyes, and difficulty walking.

Reducing your Risk of a Stroke or Incidence of a Repeat Stroke

Every year, more than 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke. About 610,000 of these are first time strokes. Likewise, one in four (185,000) survivors of stroke will have another one.  Strokes can and do occur at any age. Nearly three-quarters of all strokes occur in people over the age of 65. Stroke risk doubles each decade after the age of 55. Stroke Facts, Centers for Disease Control.

A stroke is dangerous and can be debilitating or even deadly. However, there are things that are within your control to help improve your health and reduce stroke risk factors:

  • High Blood Pressure – High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke. The American Heart Association’s (AHA) guidelines for a healthy blood pressure, in both younger and older adults, is when the top number (the systolic) is less than 130mm and the bottom number (diastolic) is lower than 80mm.
  • High blood cholesterol – Large amounts of cholesterol in the blood can build and cause blood clots in you arteries. Work with your doctor to maintain a healthy cholesterol level.
  • Quit smoking – The nicotine and carbon monoxide found in cigarettes damage the cardiovascular system. Talk to your doctor about a smoking cessation program.
  • Diabetes – Control your blood sugar whether you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes.
  • Weight – Studies show that for every 11 pounds, you can reduce your systolic blood pressure by 4.4 points.
  • Eat right! Try a healthy diet high in fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and nuts. Replace salt with a salt substitute such as Mrs. Dash or No Salt. Avoid canned vegetables that are high in sodium.
  • Exercise and increase your physical activity – Just 15-30 minutes a day of physical activity can make a difference. Take a walk.  Go on physically active outings with friends, like walking the mall. Use the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator. Take a class at your local fitness center or YMCA.

Summing it up:

Research sets forth a correlation between blood pressure, stroke and cognitive and physical functioning. Making healthy lifestyle choices can improve your immediate health and reduce your risk of stroke and other serious health issues so that you can live you best life. Your health is your wealth!

Click here to see the American Stroke Association’s “8 Ways to Help Prevent a Second Stroke.”  

Write to Chrishun Brown at Chrishun_M_Brown@rush.edu

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