Stroke Prevention: Understanding Your Risk Factors

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke. An individual’s risk of stroke increases with age, and the chance of having a stroke nearly doubles every 10 years after age 55.  There are certain health conditions and lifestyle behaviors that can be managed to help lower your risk of stroke, and there are others – like genetics, age, race and gender – that we have less control over. The good news is that 80% of strokes are preventable and understanding your personal risk and making the changes that you do have control over will help decrease your chance of having a stroke. 

Types of Strokes
A stroke occurs when there is an interruption of blood flow to any part of the brain. Also referred to as a “brain attack,” there are two types of strokes:

  • Ischemic stroke is the most common type and is caused by a blood clot that blocks or plugs a blood vessel in the brain. About 80% of strokes are ischemic.
  • Hemorrhagic stroke is caused by a ruptured blood vessel that bleeds into the brain.

Another condition that bears stroke-like symptoms is a transient ischemic attack (TIA). A TIA is commonly referred to as a “mini-stroke” and occurs when the blood supply to the brain is blocked for a short time. Symptoms include weakness on one side of the body, vision impairment and slurred speech and often resolve within 24 hours. A TIA may be a warning sign of a future stroke.

Knowing Your Risk
As we age, our arteries become narrower and are more apt to become clogged with fatty material, and this increases an individual’s risk of stroke. Age is a risk factor we have little control over. The same can be said for gender and family history. However, there are many risk factors that can be changed, treated or medically managed:

  • High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is the leading cause of stroke. Fortunately, it can be managed by maintaining a healthy diet, increasing physical activity and taking medications as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Cholesterol can be lowered through dietary and lifestyle changes. Incorporating a heart-healthy diet, increasing physical activity and lowering alcohol consumption will help lower the risk of stroke while controlling cholesterol levels.
  • Diabetes increases the chance of having a stroke. Adopting a healthy diet and physical activity plan, along with working with your doctor to monitor blood sugar and medication effectiveness, are proactive steps you can take to manage the risk.
  • Smoking negatively impacts our health in various ways, and smokers are two times as likely to have a heart attack or stroke. Quitting the habit will not only lower your risk of stroke, it will greatly enhance your quality of life.
  • Obesity increases the risk of stroke and is also directly linked to other risk factors such as hypertension, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. Adopting a healthy living plan that considers physical activity, a healthy diet, stress management and good sleep habits will support overall wellness.
  • Physical Activity is essential to healthy aging and is one of the most important things you can do for your health. For older adults, 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week is recommended. Always consult with a medical professional before making any considerable changes to your diet or exercise routine.

Related: Tips on Stroke Prevention

The first step to lowering your risk is knowing your risk. Consider the risk factors that you do have control over, assess the severity of your unique risks and schedule a visit with your doctor to discuss any concerns. Making regular health screenings a priority as we age will help with early detection of conditions that can lead to greater health problems.

Knowing the Symptoms and Acting F.A.S.T.
Knowing the common stroke symptoms and having a plan to quickly act can save a life and aide in the prevention of permanent damage. If you or a loved one has a history of strokes in your family and any of these stroke symptoms come on suddenly, call 911 immediately:

  • Numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Confusion, trouble speaking, or difficulty understanding speech
  • Loss of vison in one or both eyes
  • Trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance, or lack of coordination
  • Severe headache with no known cause

Time is critical in the treatment plans for stroke patients, and most treatments are only effective if the stroke is recognized and diagnosed within 3 hours of the first symptom. With a stroke, every second counts, and acting F.A.S.T. can help prevent further damage to the brain:

Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is the speech slurred or strange?

Time: If you see any of these signs, call 9-1-1 right away.

Note the time when any symptoms first appear. This information helps health care providers determine the best treatment for each person. If the stroke symptoms go away after a few minutes, the attack may have been a TIA. While brief, this is still a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.

Stroke Treatment Options
Depending on the course of treatment needed, various healthcare settings will be considered by the treating doctor. Post-stroke rehabilitation helps a stroke patient relearn skills that are suddenly lost when part of the brain is damaged. The treatment can include physical, occupational and speech therapies, along with skilled nursing care, and can be offered in a facility or in the comfort of one’s own home.

Patients who no longer need hospital care but who still require inpatient nursing services and a rehabilitation program may be referred to short-term rehab services within a skilled nursing facility. Skilled nursing facilities, like the ones located at Concordia at Cabot, Concordia at Villa St. Joseph, Concordia of the South Hills and others throughout western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and in Tampa, Florida, also offer long-term care support for more extensive recovery needs. 

Patients who need regular medical attention but have reasonable levels of mobility and cognitive abilities may be referred to home health services. Home health agencies like Concordia Visiting Nurses and Concordia-IRMC VNA offer physical, occupational and speech therapies, skilled nursing, family education, telehealth monitoring and even spiritual care to support every aspect of a stroke patient’s recovery.

Related: Coping with the Aftermath of Strokes

If you or a loved one has recently experienced a stroke, Concordia can help. Our various facility-based care levels and home and community services offer a variety of options to meet the patient where they are in their stroke recovery. Please contact us any time via our online contact form or by calling our administrative headquarters at 724-352-1571 to learn more about our full continuum of services.

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