A stroke happens when the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a part of the brain is blocked, said the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), a provider of global leadership for research, training, and education program. Brain cells die out after a few minutes without oxygen. Moreover, sudden bleeding in the brain can result in a stroke if it inflicts damage to brain cells. Symptoms start to manifest in some parts of the body that these brain cells control once they die or are damaged.
Symptoms of Stroke
The common symptoms of a stroke are numbness or weakness in the arm, face, and leg, especially on side of the body. Other signs include paralysis, trouble speaking or understanding speech, confusion, vision problems, loss of balance or coordination, dizziness, severe, sudden headache with an unknown cause, and even trouble seeing. It is a serious medical condition that requires emergency care, as stroke can cause lasting brain damage, long-term disability, or death. It is not advisable for individuals who are having a stroke to drive or let someone drive them. Calling an ambulance is a better alternative as medical personnel can perform life-saving treatment en route to the emergency room.
Key Statistics About Stroke
Stroke kills about 140,000 (one out of every 20 deaths) Americans a year, stated the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US’ leading national public health institute. More than 795,000 people in the US have a stroke each year and about 610,000 of them are first or new strokes. Stroke costs the country about $34 billion every year, which includes the cost of treatment, healthcare services, and missed days of work. One person in the US has a stroke every 40 seconds, and every four minutes, someone dies from a stroke.
Ashruta Patel and colleagues of the CDC conducted a survey on the early recognition of stroke symptoms as well as knowing the importance of calling 911. The researchers analyzed 27,211 adults from 2009 and 35,862 adults from 2014 using the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). The NHIS included five questions in both 2009 and 2014 about the signs and symptoms of stroke, including one about the first action taken when someone is having a stroke.
About 68% of respondents recognized all five symptoms and 66.2% were cognizant of all recommended stroke knowledge. Additionally, 93.7% of respondents recognized numbness of the face, arm, leg, or side as a sign of stroke, up from 87.1% in 2009. There were 92.8% (85.1%, 2009) who observed confusion or trouble speaking and 82.9% observed sudden trouble seeing (71.4%, 2009), which was the least recognized symptom. Ninety percent were aware of trouble walking as a sign of stroke (83.4% in 2009) and 76.1% cited sudden severe headache (65.4% in 2009).
This showed that awareness of stroke and the importance of calling 911 improved over the past several years. After adjusting for age, sex, race/ethnicity, and education level, the researchers’ results for the Healthy People (HP) 2020 goal 17.1 (all five symptoms + call 911) revealed a prevalence of 66.2% in 2014 (51.5%, 2009), exceeding the goal of 56.4%.
They also observed a prevalence of 68.3% in 2014, up from 54.1%, showing an improvement of 14.3 percentage points for HP2020 goal 17.2 (all five symptoms). For HP2020 goal 17.1 (call 911), it revealed a prevalence of 95.4% in 2014, exceeding the said goal by 0.6% and an improvement of 2.5 percentage points from 92.8%.
Types of Stroke
Ischemic: The arteries that supply blood to the brain become narrow or blocked, explained Kimberly Holland of Healthline, a medical news and information platform. Blood clots or reduced blood flow causes these blockages. They can also be caused by pieces of plaque due to the breakdown of atherosclerosis and blockage of a blood vessel. CDC said 87% of all strokes are ischemic strokes.
Embolic Stroke: This is one type of ischemic stroke that occurs when a blood clot forms in another part of the body. It often targets the heart or arteries in the upper chest and neck, moving through the bloodstream to the brain. The clot then is stuck in the brain’s arteries, stopping the flow of blood and resulting in a stroke. This type of stroke may also be the aftermath of a heart condition.
Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)
Often called a ministroke, TIA occurs when blood flow to the brain is temporarily restricted. Its symptoms are similar to that of a full stroke, but they are temporary and disappear after a few minutes or hours. It is caused by a blood clot, which is a warning sign of a future stroke.
It occurs when an artery in the brain breaks open or leaks blood, creating excess pressure in the skull and swells the brain, which then damages the brain cells and tissues.
Certain risk factors may make you more vulnerable to a stroke. If you follow an unhealthy diet that is high in salt, saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol, then it increases your risk of stroke. Inactivity also heightens your risk of stroke. Hence, it is recommended for you to get 2.5 hours of aerobic exercise each week, said the CDC. Exercise can simply be taking a brisk walk a few times a week.
Alcohol consumption should be done in moderation. For women, that means no more than one drink per day and no more than two for men. Exceeding the recommended alcohol intake may raise blood pressure levels and triglyceride levels, causing atherosclerosis. Further, tobacco can damage your vessels and heart, increasing your risk of stroke. The risk increases as blood pressure rises when you use nicotine.
There are also factors that are outside of your control such as your family history due to genetic health issues like high blood pressure or diabetes. Men and women can have strokes but they are more common in women than in men in all age groups. To reduce the abovementioned risk factors, you can get regular checkups with your doctor, eat a healthy diet, quit smoking, and consume alcohol in moderation.
If you think you are experiencing the signs of symptoms of stroke, it is best to visit a doctor for early intervention and treatment. Moreover, it is also advisable to have your cholesterol level and blood pressure checked (and other vitals) if you have a history of stroke in your family.