Lucky Strike: Recognizing the Symptoms of a Very Serious Medical Condition
By BETTY COHN, Gonzales Inquirer
May is Stroke Awareness Month, and it is a very serious and very dangerous medical condition that requires immediate attention. So what is a stroke and what can be done to prevent or lessen the damage caused by this life-threatening event?
There are different types of stroke that can happen to an individual. These are:
ischemic stroke – occurring when a blockage, usually a blood clot, prevents blood flow to the brain. Stroke occurs when a lack of oxygenated blood flow creates dying brain cells, which is why prompt medical intervention is vital. This type of blockage can lead to permanent brain damage and long-term disability.
The two main types of ischemic stroke are embolic (a blood clot originating outside the brain travels from the body, through an artery, to the brain, blocking blood flow). Thrombotic (a blood clot that has formed inside an artery in the brain then blocks blood flow). This type of (ischemic) stroke accounts for more than 80% of all reported strokes.
AIT – Transient ischemic attack – these are sometimes called ‘mini-strokes’, and these also occur when a blockage prevents blood flow to the brain for a very short time (minutes). The most important thing to understand about a TIA is that it is a warning sign and receiving proper care in a timely manner, along with subsequent lifestyle changes, can save lives. lives. The symptoms of a TIA are very similar to those of a stroke, making it imperative to call 911 and/or seek immediate medical attention.
hemorrhagic stroke – occur when an artery in the brain ruptures (breaks) or leaks blood resulting in a hemorrhagic stroke. This “sudden brain drowning” in blood puts pressure on brain cells, causing them to be damaged and eventually stop working. The highest factor of hemorrhagic stroke is hypertension (high blood pressure).
This type of stroke occurs in two different ways: intracerebral (the hemorrhage affects the surrounding brain tissue at the site) or subarachnoid (the hemorrhage affects the space between the skull and the brain, creating a pressure). Subarachnoid strokes are much less common.
Risk factors that individuals need to be aware of for stroke prevention include both things that are within their control and beyond their control. These include (outside our control) age, gender, race, family history and personal history of previous strokes. Risk factors within our control are diet, exercise, smoking, alcohol, lifestyle risks, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes.
Age, gender, race, and family background are things none of us have control over and can change. It is important and relevant to be aware of the genetic predisposition to stroke and the corresponding diseases that can lead to stroke, in your family history. It is also prudent to be aware of your own personal risk factor and take appropriate steps to mitigate your risk factors to the best of your ability by taking care of yourself.
Although a previous stroke may have been preventable, if it has already happened, the focus should be on educating your loved ones, care provider and others about this history, as well as on taking appropriate lifestyle and medical prevention measures to reduce your risk of further stroke.
Diet and exercise seem simple enough, but often prove difficult for many people. Eat an appropriate amount of calories for your body’s needs, including reasonable and safe physical activity in your daily routine, drinking water to maintain hydration, eating low-salt or no-salt foods, and avoiding foods fat, it all helps in that effort.
Smoking is very well documented to have multiple negative health consequences and should be avoided by people with a family history, and indeed all individuals. The effects of smoking during a stroke are sometimes the least likely adverse effects of this deadly habit, but the possibility of a stroke alone is cause enough to start quitting smoking or not taking the habit at first. Smokers have twice the risk of stroke as their non-smoking peers.
Alcohol consumption, likewise, is well documented as the cause of many health problems and strokes are no different in this regard. Excessive alcohol consumption or irresponsible levels of alcohol consumption can lead to any of the types of strokes listed above.
Lifestyle risks include all of the above, as well as illegal drugs, dangerous or risky behaviors that can lead to stroke.
Health conditions are controllable, although they are often genetic. These include high blood pressure, which is often silent, non-symptomatic and requires frequent and regular examinations to be identified and controlled, and the lifestyle changes listed above. High cholesterol can directly lead to blockages in the arteries and require medication and lifestyle modification. Diabetes requires the individual to control their blood sugar to prevent strokes. Heart disease can have very direct implications for a stroke, as it can cause clots to form.
Knowing all this, what should someone do if they themselves, or someone close to them, suffers a stroke. First, be aware of the warning signs. These include facial drooping (one side of the smile is lower than the other, as well as possible asymmetry of the eyes, cheeks, or lips). Arm weakness is the next sign (raise both arms to shoulder height and watch if one begins to “drift” or lower faster than the other). Slurred speech (does the person articulate their words, or does what they say make no sense or do they not understand your words). The person seems confused or has trouble seeing or walking. The person experiences a very painful headache. The person feels numbness in their face, legs, or one side of their whole body.
If these symptoms are present, immediately call 911 or your local emergency services. It is important at this time to report that you suspect it is a stroke. With these symptoms, time is running out, both to save the individual’s life and to minimize the damage caused by the stroke.
Medical professionals often call this FAST a rescue and recovery intervention for victims and potential survivors. FAST stands for Face, Arm, Speech and Time.
Betty Cohn is a retired registered nurse with 35 years of experience in the medical field in a variety of roles. She will write a bimonthly column on medical-related topics and welcome questions and suggestions at [email protected]