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What You Need to Know about Stroke

According to the American Heart Association, every 45 minutes, someone in America has a stroke. And someone dies of a stroke every three minutes. Did you know that after age 55, your risk of stroke doubles with each decade? Did you know that if you get treatment for a stroke within 3 hours after symptoms begin, you have a much higher chance of recovering?

Many Americans are unaware of how serious strokes are, how common they are, and what the first symptoms are. Strokes are the number 3 killer of Americans.

Knowing the symptoms of stroke, and knowing that you have to call 9-1-1 right away, give you the best chances of recovering. Symptoms include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in your face, arm or leg, especially on one side of your body
  • Sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, sudden dizziness
  • Sudden, severe, unexplainable headache

What are the risk factors?
Risk factors for stroke include 

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Smoking
  • Heart disease
  • Having had a previous stroke
  • Heavy use of alcohol
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes

A survey conducted last summer by the University of Cincinnati showed that women were 71 percent more likely than men to know at least one warning sign of stroke. The same survey showed that people who are at the highest risk for stroke—men, individuals older than 75 and African Americans—know the least about warning signs and risk factors.

Why are the first 3 hours so important?
The most common type of stroke is called “ischemic.” During an ischemic stroke, a blood clot blocks flow to the brain. In 1996, the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of a drug that dissolves clots. It’s called tPA, for tissue plasminogen activator. This drug can be given while a stroke is in progress. If patients receive tPA within 3 hours after a stroke begins, chances of reducing the stroke’s effects and of reducing permanent disability are significantly higher.

What are the effects of stroke?
A study conducted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Association showed that participants over 65 who had had ischemic stroke, the most common kind, suffered from the following effects six months after their stroke:

  • 50% had paralysis on one side
  • 30% needed help walking
  • 26% needed help with bathing, grooming and eating
  • 19% percent had trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • 35% had symptoms of depression
  • 26% were in a nursing home

What can you do to prevent a stroke from occurring?
The best way to decrease your risk of stroke is to make sure you’re doing everything you can to manage your risk factors. It’s important to sit down with your doctor and identify which risk factors you have. If you’re eating the right foods, taking medication your doctor prescribes for you, getting exercise regularly and practicing stress reduction activities—such as taking time to relax, spending time with friends and taking part in religious or spiritual beliefs that are meaningful to you—then you’re probably doing everything you can to lower your risk.

But don’t forget, if you notice any of the symptoms of stroke that we’ve listed above, call 9-1-1 right away. It can make a big difference in your recovery.

The American Stroke Association; National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

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