But when a stroke happens, it is an emergency because vital blood flow and oxygen to the brain are cut off,according to the National Stroke Association.
Two types of stroke exist — ischemic and hemorrhagic.
Ischemic stroke occurs when arteries are blocked by blood clots or by the gradual buildup of plaque and other fatty deposits. About 87 percent of all strokes are ischemic.
Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain breaks leaking blood into the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes account for 13 percent of all stroke-related deaths.
When either stroke happens, 2 million brain cells die every minute of the attack, increasing risk of permanent brain damage, disability, or death.
Because of its lethal effect, the stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, killing more than 133,000 people each year. Strokes kill twice as many women each year than breast cancer and affects 55,000 more women than men.
Approximately 795,000 strokes will occur this year. One happens every 40 seconds and takes a life approximately every four minutes. African-Americans have almost twice the risk of stroke compared to caucasians. Plus, strokes in children are increasing at an alarming rate, up 50 percent among boys ages 12 years and older.
Stroke is also a leading cause of serious, long-term adult disability. An estimated 7 million stroke survivors in the U.S. are older than 20 years.
The prevalence of transit ischemic attacks (TIA), or “mini stokes,” increases with age. As much as 40 percent of all people who suffer a TIA will go on to experience a stroke.
A stroke survivor not only has to deal with the medical effects, but the financial one as well. The average stroke patient pays more than $140,000 in lifetime medical bills. The estimated direct and indirect cost of stroke in the United States in 2010 was $73.7 billion.
So, how do we decrease our risk of stroke?
According to the National Stroke Association, 80 percent of strokes can be prevented by controlling the following risk factors.
High blood pressure
Know your blood pressure and regularly check it. It is a major risk factor if left untreated.
Afib is an abnormal heartbeat that can increase stroke risk by 500 percent. Afib can cause blood to pool in the heart and may form a clot, causing a stroke.
Smoking doubles the risk as it damages blood vessel walls, speeds up artery clogging, raises blood pressure and makes the heart work harder.
Control alcohol use
Most doctors recommend not drinking or drinking only in moderation (no more than two drinks per day). Also remember alcohol can interact with other drugs.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance in blood made by the body or comes in food. High cholesterol levels can clog arteries and cause stroke. See your doctor if your total cholesterol is more than 200.
Many people with diabetes have health problems that are stroke risk factors.
Exercise, manage diet
Excess body weight strains the circulatory system. Exercise five times a week. Maintain a diet low in calories, salt, saturated and trans fats and cholesterol. Eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
Treat circulation problems
Fatty deposits can block arteries carrying blood to the brain and lead to a stroke. Other problems such as sickle cell disease or severe anemia should be treated.
It is also important to know the warning signs of stroke and act “FAST.”
F — FACE: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A — Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S — Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Does the speech sound slurred or strange?
T — Time: If you observed any one or combination of these signs, call 911 immediately.
Help reduce the occurrence of stroke by knowing the risk factors and taking the necessary steps including lifestyle and medical changes. Also, know the warning signs of stroke and, if any of these symptoms occur, act “FAST.”
Denise Boldea is a physical therapist and Sonia Hunter is a speech language pathologist. Both practice with The Rehabilitation Institute of Northeast Georgia Health System.