Know the risk factors, warning signs of a stroke
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Know the risk factors, warning signs of a stroke

  • Dr. Todd Devere:

    Chief of neurology at Kaiser Permanente Hawaii

As we age, the chance of stroke increases. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. Types of strokes are defined by the way blood interacts with the brain. Over 80% of strokes are ischemic, caused by a failure or interruption of blood flow to the brain. Up to 20% of strokes are hemorrhagic, caused by bleeding in the brain.

The faster diagnosis and treatment occur, the better the outcome for the individual.

If evaluated in the hospital fast enough, some strokes can be treated with clot busters and other procedures to improve outcome.

Otherwise, it’s critical to recognize the warning signs and to act FAST. The symptoms are detailed in the graphic at right.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month, but keeping this information handy can help year-round. Controlling your risk factors, knowing the signs and acting FAST can make a lifesaving difference.

Here are the basics on stroke’s causes, effects and immediate symptoms.

Preventing a stroke

Some risk factors for stroke, like age, can’t be changed, but there are many things you can do to decrease your stroke risk, no matter your age.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that up to 80% of all strokes are preventable with the right health choices. Here are a few things kupuna can do.

>> Control high blood pressure: Reducing hypertension to the target recommended by your primary care provider is by far the best thing you can do to reduce your stroke risk by up to 50% to 75%.

>> Quit smoking: Smoking greatly increases risk of stroke.

>> Control diabetes: Uncontrolled blood sugars in diabetic people increase their risk of stroke.

>> Drink in moderation: Moderate drinking doesn’t appear to increase stroke risk, but heavy drinking does.

>> Eat healthy: Obesity is a risk factor for stroke. A healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables helps reduce stroke risk.

>> Stay active: Maintaining moderate physical activity can reduce stroke risk by 25% to 30%.

Aftermath of a stroke

Most stroke victims — 75% — survive, and the aftermath of every stroke is different, depending on where in the brain it occurs and how much tissue is involved. In general, there are three types of longer-term stroke effects to look out for.

>> Physical: Stroke effects usually occur on the opposite side of the body to the brain hemisphere affected. Physical effects can include numbness, stiffness, weakness and loss of control of limbs, face or bowel/bladder function. Speech and vision can also be affected.

>> Cognitive: Depending on where in the brain they occur, strokes can affect object and facial recognition, spatial reasoning, memory, communication and attention.

>> Emotional: The effects of a stroke on a patient’s emotions and social abilities are some of the least-discussed effects of a stroke. Depending on the stroke’s location and severity, patients may experience extreme swings of emotion, depression or changes in personality. They may also suffer from anosognosia, or a lack of self-awareness, which may lead them to deny having had a stroke and/or refuse treatment.

Fortunately, stroke effects tend to improve with time, especially with frequent, repeated practice and therapy.

LEARN MORE, GET SCREENED

The state Department of Health will host a community health fair Saturday in observance of National Stroke Awareness Month.

Visit Kahala Mall from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to learn stroke risk factors and prevention tips, receive a free blood pressure screening and find resources for stroke survivors and their family members.

Go to health.hawaii.gov/heart-disease-stroke/home/stroke or cdc.gov/stroke to learn more.

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