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Many people think of strokes as a disease of the elderly, but it can happen to anyone at any time, even very young people. A stroke occurs when blood flow to an area of the brain is cut off depriving brain cells of oxygen and causing them to die. As brain cells die, the abilities controlled by that area of the brain such as memory and muscle control can be lost.

How a person is affected by a stroke depends on where the stroke occurs in the brain and how much the brain is damaged. People who suffer a small stroke may have temporary, minor problems such as weakness in an arm or leg. Those who suffer larger strokes may have permanent problems such as paralysis on one side of the body or loss of speech. Some people recover completely from strokes, but most survivors have some type of disability caused by the stroke.

According to the National Stroke Association there is good news—80% of strokes can be prevented. Having information about the signs of stroke, your risk of stroke and stroke prevention is the best way to save your life or the life of someone else.

Signs of stroke—F-A-S-T

The American Stroke Association has developed an easy-to-remember acronym to help people detect the signs of a stroke—F-A-S-T. The letters stand for the symptoms of stroke and the words tells us how we should act if someone is having a stroke.

F—face drooping. Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile lopsided or uneven?

A—arm weakness. Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S—speech difficulty. Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue.”

T—time to call 9-1-1. If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if they go away, call 9-1-1. Time is important.

Other signs of stroke can include sudden:

  • confusion
  • trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • severe headache with no known cause

Your risk of stroke

The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from a stroke is to understand your risk and how to control it. There are two types of risk factors for stroke:

  1. those you can control
  2. those out of your control

Risk factors you can control

High blood pressure—is the single most important risk factor because it is the number one cause of stroke. When blood pushes too forcefully against the walls of your arteries, it can damage or weaken them and lead to stroke. Ideally your blood pressure should be below 120/80. If your blood pressure is climbing toward 140/90 or higher you are at risk for stroke.

Diabetes—increases your risk of stroke because it can cause disease of the blood vessels in the brain.

High cholesterol—increases the risk of blocked arteries to the brain resulting in a stroke.

Smoking—doubles the risk of stroke when compared to a nonsmoker. Smoking increases clot formation, thickens blood, and increases the amount of plaque buildup in the arteries.

Physical inactivity—being inactive can increase your risk of heart disease, becoming overweight, developing high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol.

Talk to your doctor about managing your blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes, as well as increasing your physical activity and getting help with smoking cessation.

Risk factors you cannot control

Age and gender—as you age your risk for stroke increases. The likelihood of having a stroke nearly doubles every 10 years after age 55. Each year women have more strokes than men.

Race and ethnicity—statistics show that African-American people have much higher risk of stroke than Caucasian people.

Personal or family history of stroke—if your parent, grandparent, sister or brother has had a stroke—especially before reaching 65—you may be at greater risk. In addition, a person who has had a stroke has a much higher risk of having another stroke.

You can learn more about your risk factors for stroke from the American Stroke Association.

Preventing stroke

Preventing stroke means choosing to live a healthy lifestyle, including:

Eating healthy—a healthy diet involves restricting high fat foods and those high in salt and sugar, as well as eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Moving more—recent studies show that people who exercise five or more times per week have a reduced stroke risk. The latest recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control includes doing 150 minutes of activity at a moderatly intense level per week (biking, aerobics, brisk walking) and two or more days a week of muscle-strengthening activity.

Quit smoking—if you smoke, try as hard as possible to stop. Ask your doctor about quit-smoking aids like nicotine patches, counseling, and programs that are available to you.

Use alcohol moderately—drinking too much alcohol can increase blood pressure and the risk of stroke. Aim to drink no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.

One more way to live a healthier lifestyle is to find the right doctor and get a regular physical. Are you looking for a doctor or do you need an appointment?

Consider signing up for CarePlus—a free concierge healthcare service. When you sign up for CarePlus our team will help you:

  • find the right doctor
  • get appointments quickly
  • get faster access to your medical information—like lab results
  • obtain referrals to specialists and the pre-authorizations you may need
  • get your insurance questions answered