As you woke up this morning, got out of bed, picked the Tallahassee Democrat up off your porch or logged in online, you were using your brain. The human brain is a fascinating organ with billions of neurons and neuronal connections, called synapses. Normal functioning of these neurons depends on adequate supply of nutrients and oxygen through an intricate network of blood vessels. An interruption of the blood flow due to a blockage or vessel rupture can lead to a stroke.
Stroke is the leading cause of adult disability in the country. Each year, approximately 800,000 Americans suffer a stroke. There are two major categories of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic. Ischemic strokes occur due to a blocked artery in the brain and account for about 80 percent of all strokes. The blockage in the artery can be due to a blood clot or atherosclerosis plaque buildup. A Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) is caused by a temporary obstruction of blood supply. These are sometimes called warning strokes or mini-strokes and should be taken very seriously. Persons with a TIA have a very high risk of an ischemic stroke in the next few days. Hemorrhagic strokes happen when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures, which most often is a result of poorly controlled blood pressure. A brain hemorrhage can also occur due to blood vessel abnormalities such as aneurysms and arteriovenous malformations.
Symptoms of a stroke depend on the part of the brain affected and include weakness or numbness of one arm and leg, difficulty speaking, vision disturbance and/or sudden severe headache. Stroke symptoms almost always start abruptly and commonly affect one side of the body. Stroke is a medical emergency and you should immediately call 911 if you or your loved one experiences any of these symptoms. This would ensure prompt medical evaluation and treatment, which is of utmost importance in this situation.
There are several options available for treatment of strokes, including the clot busting medication tPA, which is approved by the Food and drug Administration (FDA) for use within 3 hours after onset of ischemic stroke symptoms. In cases of stroke due to a blood clot in one of the arteries inside the brain, sometimes a catheter can be introduced into the artery through the groin to pull the clot out and restore blood flow to the brain. This form of brain surgery, performed without opening the skull, is only available in our region at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare. The treatments for stroke can be beneficial if given within the first few hours after the symptoms are first noticed, therefore getting to the emergency room immediately is extremely important. These treatments increase the chances of being independent and free of disability after the stroke.
One of four strokes occurs in people who have had a stroke or TIA in the past. With strokes, just like any other condition, prevention is the best form of treatment. High blood pressure is the most important controllable risk factor for stroke and is the leading cause for ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes. Monitoring blood pressure and maintaining normal blood pressure measurements can substantially reduce the risk of stroke. Other controllable risk factors include diabetes, high cholesterol and cigarette smoking. Atrial fibrillation, a type of heart rhythm disorder, is another important cause of ischemic stroke.
Physical inactivity and obesity also increase the risk of stroke. The American Stroke Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day. Diet plays a very important role in maintaining adequate control of blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol levels. Five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily may reduce the risk of stroke. The Mediterranean-type diet has also been shown to be beneficial in reducing the risk of stroke.
Each year, the American Stroke Association recognizes May as stroke month. This year's focus is on increasing awareness about the warning signs of stroke, which can be easily remembered with the acronym F.A.S.T. – Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, Time to call 9-1-1. You can become a stroke hero by knowing these stroke warning signs and being prepared to act FAST if you think someone may be experiencing a stroke.