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Identifying Signs of

Stroke and Risk Factors

Stroke Awareness

Every year nearly 800,000 people in the U.S. experience a stroke. The risk for experiencing one of these adverse cardiac events increases every year (1). Understanding what a stroke is, being able to recognize the warning signs, and knowing the lifestyle factors involved in stroke risk may save your life or that of a loved one.

What is a Stroke?

That supercomputer residing inside your skull takes a lot of fuel to function, and any interruption in this fuel source can have drastic consequences. A steady stream of blood pumped from the heart brings needed glucose and oxygen to the brain. However, the brain is unable to store these substances. Any interruption in that blood supply is a stroke. A stroke can be caused by a few different factors, but are generally ischemic or hemorrhagic in nature, meaning the result of a blockage in the arteries or a rupture of a blood vessel which impedes normal blood flow. Ischemic strokes, caused by an artery blockage, represent nearly 90 percent of strokes (1).

The effects of a stroke are highly dependent on how long it persists and what part of the brain has been cut-off from its fuel source. In some cases, known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or mini-stroke, the symptoms may last under an hour and recovery is probable. However, a stroke often results in long-term issues. In fact, according to the CDC, 1 in 8 strokes is fatal within the first 30 days and 25 percent of stroke victims die within a year (2). Strokes are the most common cause of serious long-term disability and, in stroke survivors over the age of 65, more than half experience permanent impairment (1). Since different parts of the brain regulate different bodily functions, a stroke often acutely manifests itself in specific impairments. For instance, the frontal lobe (which represents 2/3 of the physical size of the brain) regulates executive functioning and speech, so an interruption in blood flow to this part of the brain often manifests itself in behavioral changes and difficulty with speech. On the other hand, a disruption in the temporal lobe may affect hearing. Also, because the brain is separated into two halves known as hemispheres, with each half having different responsibilities and controlling movement on the opposite side of the body, impairments may manifest themselves in different ways and on different sides of the body dependent on the location of the blockage or rupture.

THE FIVE WARNING SIGNS

The chances of survival and recovery from a stroke are greatly increased with early detection. According to research, stroke victims who receive medical care within three hours generally experience less (and less severe) disability long-term (3). Unfortunately, the research also shows that this is the case less than 40 percent of the time and that the majority of individuals don’t even know what symptoms to look out for (3). You are possibly familiar with the acronym FAST: face drooping, arm weakness, speech, and time to call 911; as simple as it is to remember, it isn’t necessarily the most comprehensive list of signs, though it does provide a starting place. Signs may also include:

NUMBNESS

One of the primary signs of a stroke is sudden numbness or weakness in the face or extremities, often only on one side.

SPEECH

A stroke rooted in the frontal or temporal lobe will cause noticeable impairments in speech, hearing, or difficulty understanding speech.

VISION

Many stroke victims experience difficulty seeing or blurred vision, in one or both eyes.

BALANCE

One of the immediate signs is difficulty walking, balancing, and coordinating of the extremities.

HEADACHE

Experiencing a severe headache and/or dizziness, with no known cause, may be a sign of stroke.

If you are experiencing any or a combination of these symptoms, it is imperative to seek medical help as soon as possible. While medical treatment for strokes is rapidly advancing, especially with a surgical procedure known as a thrombectomy, research has consistently shown that intervention within 16 hours is key for reducing mortality rates and improving possibility of functionally-independent recovery (4).

STROKE

RISK FACTORS

Similar to other cardiovascular-related health events, a healthy lifestyle is the primary controllable risk factor regarding strokes. While the specific ways in which it increases stroke risk is much debated, data is very clear that obesity significantly increases stroke risk (5). When diving more deeply into the research, it is the individual risk factors associated with Metabolic Syndrome – hypertension (high blood pressure), dyslipidemia (high levels of cholesterol and other lipids in the blood), and diabetes – that are the strongest predictors of risk for stroke (6). Other related research has shown that physical activity and healthy dietary habits reduce stroke risk, but again the relationship is likely due to improvements in blood pressure, blood serum cholesterol and triglycerides, and blood glucose regulation (7). Following the principles of Prime Meridian’s Advanced Preventive Care (APC) Program by managing weight and cardiovascular health biomarkers through healthy lifestyle behaviors is the most direct way to manage your own risk for experiencing a stroke.

An acute interruption of blood flow to the brain, more commonly referred to as a stroke, is the greatest cause of long-term disability and represents more than 15 percent of cardiovascular disease deaths in the United States (8). But, with a little knowledge about warning signs and healthy lifestyle habits you can significantly decrease your own risk. Talk to your Prime Meridian Healthcare provider about how you can get involved in the APC Program and develop the tools you need to promote long-term cardiovascular and metabolic health.

References

1

Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics

Virani S., et al.

4

Thrombectomy for Strokes

Albers G., et al.

7

Metabolic Mediators, Coronary Heart Disease and Stroke

Lu Y., et al.

2

2020 Stroke Facts

Centers for Disease Control

5

Stroke Risk Factors and Prevention

Boehme A., et al.

8

Underlying Cause of Death

Centers for Disease Control

3

Stroke Warning Symptoms

Fang J., et al.

6

Metabolic Syndrome and Stroke

Arenillas J., et al.