Senior couple measuring blood pressure

Minimize your risk of stroke

A stroke is a very serious condition that impacts the lives of many people every year. Strokes are the fifth leading cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States. A stroke occurs when the blood supply is blocked to the brain. In minutes, brain cells begin to die due to a lack of oxygen. When a stroke occurs, it happens fast. You have a matter of seconds to act, so you can’t second guess yourself and need to know how to respond. Learn more below about the kinds of stroke, the warning signs to spot, along with whether you’re at risk, and how to prevent and treat a stroke.

The different strokes

Depending on the stroke and its severity, each stroke has different outcomes and effects. There are three main kinds of strokes which include:

  1. Ischemic stroke – Making up 87% of strokes, ischemic strokes occur when a vessel bringing blood to the brain becomes blocked. Blood clots or fatty artery deposits are to blame for the blockage. Recent studies show that people who have COVID-19 are more likely to have an ischemic stroke afterward. If you’re wondering how to prevent stroke after COVID, it’s a common concern these days. Researchers are currently studying how to prevent stroke after COVID, but there remains much uncertainty.
  2. Hemorrhagic stroke – These occur when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures and bleeds into the surrounding brain tissue. This puts pressure on the brain cells and ultimately damages them. As a result, the damaged brain cells can no longer function properly, which can cause life-threatening neurological effects.
  3. Transient ischemic attack (TIA) – This is known as a “mini stroke,” but it’s also a major warning sign of a future stroke. With a TIA, blood flow to the brain is only blocked for a short time, usually five minutes at most. But, it’s as much of a medical emergency as a major stroke because there’s no way to tell whether the stroke symptoms are caused by a TIA or a major stroke without medical intervention. Unfortunately, since a TIA is usually over quickly, more than 30% of sufferers don’t seek treatment and have a major stroke within one year.

Spelling out the symptoms

Thinking fast is the only way to help a person having a stroke. If you think someone is having an attack, think F.A.S.T. The letters of the acronym spell out the basic signs of a stroke, helping you spot a stroke F.A.S.T.

  • Face drooping – Ask the person to smile to check if one side of the face droops.
  • Arm weakness – See if the person can raise both arms and notice if one arm drifts down.
  • Speech problems – Can the person speak clearly or does his or her speech sound slurred?
  • Time to call 911 – If you spot any of these stroke symptoms, call 9-1-1 right away.

While these are the main warning signs of a stroke, there are several other important stroke symptoms. Headache is one of the most common stroke symptoms. Headache, along with confusion, trouble walking and talking, and difficulty understanding shouldn’t be ignored.

Understanding your risk for a stroke

While strokes may seem out of your control, there are actually several stroke risk factors that you can control, along with others you simply cannot. Some of the stroke risk factors within your control include high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, a diet high in saturated fat and salt, lack of exercise, obesity, smoking, and previous heart conditions. The stroke risk factors beyond your control are old age, family history of stroke, and having had a previous stroke. In addition, African Americans and Hispanics are at a higher risk of strokes, as well as women who are more likely to both suffer and die from strokes than men.

How to prevent strokes

Making little lifestyle changes can make a big difference by reducing your risk of stroke. These are also helpful ideas for how to prevent stroke after COVID. Consider the following tips about how to prevent strokes:

  1. Lower your blood pressure – High blood pressure is the reason for half of all strokes. If you have high blood pressure, lowering yours is how to prevent strokes.
  2. Eat a healthy diet – Focus on foods that are low in saturated fats and cholesterol, as well as high in fiber and nutrients. Be sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
  3. Think before you drink – Drinking too much, too often, can lead to high blood pressure, which increases your risk of stroke.
  4. Exercise regularly – Regular physical activity can help lower your weight, your blood pressure, and your cholesterol level, which will help lower your risk of stroke. All you need is 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
  5. Avoid smoking – Both using tobacco and breathing secondhand smoke can raise your risk of having a stroke. But quitting and avoiding smoky spots is how to prevent strokes.
  6. Help your heart – An irregular heartbeat can lead to blood clots, which is the cause of a stroke.

Keep these treatments in mind

While the type of stroke determines the type of treatment, the focus is on restoring blood flow, controlling bleeding, and reducing pressure on the brain. The first course of treatments is medications and surgery. However, just as important is rehabilitation therapy after the stroke to help sufferers recover their skills, independence, and quality of life.

If you have concerns or questions about strokes, speak to your SignatureMD-affiliated doctor to reduce your fears and your risk.