Causing more than 140,000 deaths every year, stroke is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Experts say the number of deaths today, however, is much lower than 15 years ago, due to advances in stroke treatment and prevention.
A stroke occurs when your body’s blood supply to the brain is interrupted. Stroke is a serious medical emergency, and should be treated immediately to avoid permanent brain damage or further complications.
Are You at Risk?
Many different factors can put you at risk for a stroke, as well as a heart attack. Though a stroke can occur at any age, approximately 75 percent of strokes occur in people over the age of 65. African Americans are more likely to have a stroke than whites—no matter what age—and every year, approximately 55,000 women have more strokes than men.
Additional, important risk factors for stroke include:
● High blood pressure or high cholesterol. Stroke risk increases if your blood pressure is above 115/75; cholesterol readings above 200 are a cause for concern.
● Family history of stroke or heart disease. Discuss your family history with your doctor.
● Diabetes. If you have this condition, talk to your doctor about your stroke risk.
● Heart disease, as well as atrial fibrillation—a heart rhythm disorder that causes rapid heart rate. Heart issues are linked to risk for blood clots.
● Being overweight (body mass index of 25–29) or obese (body mass index above 30). Physical inactivity also increases your risk for stroke.
● Taking medications, such as birth control pills or estrogen hormone therapies, can increase the risk of blood clots.
● Lifestyle choices, such as heavy alcohol use, smoking, or cocaine or methamphetamine use, can increase the risk of bleeding in the brain.
Treatment and Recovery
Because a stroke can occur in different areas of the brain, symptoms vary according to the part of the brain affected. Common symptoms include headache, numbness or tingling on one side of the body, and trouble with speaking or vision. In some cases, a person is not aware of even having a stroke.
Stroke treatment depends on the type of stroke—ischemic or hemorrhagic. Ischemic strokes block an artery. They are more common than hemorrhagic strokes, which cause bleeding in the brain.
Treatments for ischemic strokes include:
● Drugs to stop blood clots. Aspirin is the most common, though you may be given other blood-thinning drugs, such as warfarin (Coumadin), heparin or clopidogrel (Plavix).
● A tissue plasminogen activator (TPA) injection to bust blood clots and help with recovery.
● Emergency procedures, such as TPA injections to the brain or the physical removal of a blood clot through surgery.
● Procedures to decrease your chances of having another stroke, including the removal of plaque from blocked arteries (carotid endarterectomy), or techniques used to widen an artery (angioplasty and stents).
Hemorrhagic stroke treatments aim to reduce pressure and control bleeding in the brain, and treatments include:
● Drugs or transfusions to counteract blood-thinning drugs. Hemorrhagic stroke victims cannot be given aspirin or other drugs to stop blood clots because these medications can prolong bleeding in the brain.
● Surgery to repair blood vessel abnormalities that cause hemorrhagic stroke, including aneurysm clipping, coiling or surgical AVM removal.
Remember, stroke is a serious medical condition. If you suspect that you or a loved one is having a stroke, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Aventura Hospital is recognized as a Primary Stroke Center, and our team is ready to help treat a stroke quickly and effectively. For medical questions or a physician referral, call Consult-A-Nurse® at 1-888-256-7692.