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By Rose Watroba, MHSA, BS, RN
Vice President of Neuroscience, Ocala Health

CAN STROKE BE PREVENTED?The answer is yes – it is possible to prevent a stroke.  Eighty percent (80%) of all strokes are actually preventable.  Yet each year about 185,000 Americans die from a stroke.  This article is about strokes, who is at risk for stroke, steps you can take to prevent a stroke, recognizing the common symptoms of a stroke, and how you can help save a life by taking immediate action when you see someone having a stroke.

No two strokes are alike.  Research shows that too few people know what a stroke is and how to recognize when someone is having a stroke.  A stroke, sometimes called a “brain attack” occurs when blood flow through a vessel to a part of the brain is blocked (most common), or a blood vessel ruptures causing bleeding into the brain.  When this happens, part of the brain does not get the blood flow (and oxygen) it needs and brain cells can be damaged or die.  About 1.9 million neurons are lost each minute. This could mean a person’s speech, movement, vision, and how they think and feel can be affected.  Every minute counts!

Some Worldwide Statistics
• Stroke is the second leading cause of death and the leading cause of disability worldwide
• One in six people in the world will suffer a stroke in their lifetime (World Stroke Organization)
• Sixteen million people a year experience a stroke
• Someone dies from a stroke every six seconds
• 6.2 million lives are lost per year

Learn to spot the signs of a stroke – Call 911 immediately
• Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
• Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
• Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
• Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination
• Sudden severe headache with no known cause

Stroke can happen to anyone, at any age, at any time, and knows no borders. It is a worldwide concern.  As a matter of fact, October 29th is known as “World Stroke Day,” a day that is observed worldwide to raise awareness on stroke and what can be done to help reduce the burden of stroke globally.

Each year, more than 795,000 Americans have a stroke. That is 140,000 or 1 out of every 20 people (cdc.gov).  Everyone is at risk for stroke – babies, children and even young adults can all be at risk, not just the elderly.  Certain factors make you more at risk than others.  By knowing the risk factors and identifying your personal risk, you can make some healthy lifestyle changes that can prevent stroke happening to you.

There are two types of risk factors, those you can control, and those you cannot control.  Review the risk factors to identify your personal risk.

Risk factors that you can control, treat, and improve
These risk factors are referred to as “modifiable risk factors.”  They are lifestyle factors everyone can work on to help reduce or prevent stroke – especially hypertension and low physical activity, two very important risk factors you can monitor and control.
• High blood pressure – know your numbers and keep them low
• Low physical activity – get moving!
• Smoking and tobacco use – if you smoke, quit
• Diabetes – keep blood sugar controlled
• Atrial Fibrillation – partner with your healthcare provider to reduce risk
• Diet – low saturated and trans fats, sodium and added sugar, veggies and fruit–five servings/day
• Obesity – take steps to get your body mass into a healthy range
• High blood cholesterol – seek treatment to lower your risk
• Carotid or Coronary Artery Disease – seek treatment to lower your risk

Risk factors not in your control
These risk factors are referred to as “uncontrollable risk factors.”
• Age
• Ethnicity
• Family history of stroke (parent, grandparent, brother or sister)
• Certain genetic conditions (Sickle Cell Disease)
• Gender – women have more strokes than men
• Previous stroke, TIA or heart attack

Through lifestyle changes and partnering with your health care provider, you can reduce your stroke risk and prevent stroke happening to you.  Remember, regular check-ups are important.

Take steps to a healthier lifestyle:
• Don’t smoke
• Be physically active – start moving!
• Take your medications as directed
• Get your blood pressure checked regularly
• Eat a balanced diet
• If you drink alcohol, only drink in moderation – one drink a day for women; two drinks a day for men

If you are with someone who has ANY of these symptoms – Call 911 – BE FAST!
• Balance – unsteady, dizzy
• Eyes – change or loss of vision
• Face – drooping
• Arm weakness
• Speech Difficulty
• Time to call 911 – Stroke is a medical emergency!

Even if the symptoms go away, call 911 immediately.  Clot-busting medication can restore blood flow to the brain.  New procedures for endovascular clot removal and treating aneurysms may be appropriate in certain situations.  Remember, time lost is brain loss.  Immediate medical treatment can save lives and reduce disability!

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