Stroke Awareness Month–Act FAST!
May is stroke awareness month and the National Stroke Association is encouraging us to “Act FAST”, to detect the symptoms of a stroke and to get immediate help in the event a friend, loved one or anyone you encounter exhibits signs of a stroke. So what’s this about acting “FAST”? Well, in this case, F-A-S-T means more than just being in a hurry. It’s an acronym that gives us easy to remember clues as to whether someone is suffering from a stroke and then tells us what to do.
F – Face: Stroke victims will often experience paralysis in one side of the face. Ask the person to smile. If one part of the face draws up while the other droops, your friend may be suffering a stroke.
A – Arms: Ask the person to raise his or her arms. Similar to the face-test, if one arm operates normally while the other arm remains at the side or drifts downward, there’s a problem.
S – Speech: Slurred speech can be a sign of a stroke, especially given the presence of the first two symptoms. Ask the person to recite a simple sentence. Is their speech clear or slurred?
T – Time: Time is the most important factor in whether a stroke victim will live, die or stand a fighting chance for recovery. If you have any reason to believe a person is having a stroke, call 911 immediately! EMS can treat patients for stroke at the scene but immediate transport to a hospital is critical in limiting the damage done by a stroke.
Okay, so what exactly is a stroke, what causes them and how do we prevent them? First, a stroke is a “brain attack”. Just like a heart attack occurs when the heart is starved of adequate blood supply, the brain is susceptible to damage by the same types of blockages in major arteries to the brain. When a part of the brain doesn’t receive vital blood supply, the neglected areas may start to die, initially affecting speech, movement or even the senses.
Blockages can be caused by a build-up of fatty depots in the walls of arteries called plaque or by blood clots. Atherosclerosis, or a hardening of the arteries, can also be caused by this build-up of plaque. Blockages themselves can become complete and slowly starve the brain of needed blood and oxygen. Likewise, plaque deposits can break off and become lodged in the arteries, cutting off blood flow to vital parts of the brain. Sometimes blockages are cleared quickly on their own, resulting in a condition known as TIA or Transient Ischemic Attack. Here, a patient shows similar symptoms of a stroke but those symptoms often disappear as the blockage is cleared. While no permanent damage may result, TIA is still a dangerous condition that must be diagnosed and treated before an Ischemic stroke occurs. Then there are hemorrhagic strokes, including aneurysms. In a hemorrhagic stroke, a weakening of the blood vessels in or around the brain may swell and burst, leaking blood into the brain, thus increasing pressure and causing brain cells to die off. Each type of stroke has its own particular method of inflicting damage, and all can be debilitating and potentially fatal.
Now for prevention: As we’ve seen, blockages and weakened arteries are responsible for causing strokes. So, it would stand to reason that a fit cardiovascular system and maintaining healthy blood pressure, would be among the answers for limiting the potential for stroke. But the National Stroke Association gives us some more guidelines for prevention. These are all things we have control over and can do to reduce our risks of suffering a stroke:
- Monitor blood pressure. Hypertension is one of the most common causes of stroke.
- Find out if you have Atrial Fibrillation (Afib). An irregular heartbeat can increase your risk of stroke.
- Stop smoking! Smoking DOUBLES your risk of stroke!
- Drink only in moderation. Over-consuming alcohol can put you at greater risk.
- Keep cholesterol in check. High cholesterol can cause blockages and atherosclerosis.
- Treat your diabetes. Blood sugar regulation is essential in maintaining healthy arteries.
- Exercise–enough said!
- Control circulation/blood flow problems
- Lower your salt intake. Less dietary salt can lower blood pressure.
Lastly, there are all-natural supplements that can help keep your blood pressure in check, lower cholesterol, better regulate blood sugar and keep your blood flowing freely! As always, preventative measures can be the difference in avoiding deadly conditions such as stroke. Let’s all be smart, improve our habits and lifestyles, monitor our medical conditions and if you see a neighbor in trouble, “Act FAST”!