May is stroke prevention month, making now a good opportunity to take a closer look at the medical condition. With over 795,000 strokes occurring annually in the United States, the condition is fifth-leading cause of death in the country, highlighting the importance of Stroke Awareness Month to improve our understanding its symptoms, causes, and prevention.
What is a Stroke?
A stroke is a medical condition effecting blood vessels in the brain. Caused by either a rupture or blockage in a blood vessel, when a stroke occurs it restricts oxygen reaching the brain tissue, which can have catastrophic effects on the brain.
A lack of oxygen reaching the bran results in brain tissue and cells becoming severely damaged, eventually dying off within minutes of the stroke happening. This means a stroke may cause brain damage, long-term disability, or even death in severe cases.
What are the Symptoms of a Stroke?
Because a stroke restricts blood flow to the brain, there are various symptoms that can occur depending on where the damage is happening. This means all kinds of symptoms may appear visible, and it helps to understand these symptoms to have the best chance of identifying a stroke quickly.
The sooner a stroke is identified the faster care can be administered, limiting the possible damage that occurs from the stroke. Some of the most common symptoms of a stroke include:
One side of the body suffers from sudden numbness or weakness, such as the arm, face, or leg.
- Speech problems like slurred speaking or difficulty speaking at all
- Trouble understanding speech
- Visions problems like double vision or blurred vision
- Struggling to walk and/or maintain balance
- Sudden headaches with no notable cause
Stroke Symptoms in Women
Beyond the common symptoms of a stroke displayed in most people, there are certain symptoms that appear more commonly in women. These include:
- Losing consciousness
- Difficulty breathing
Stroke Symptoms in Men
Men are a higher risk for a stroke – men are more likely to suffer a stroke at a younger age than women. However, it is believed that men are less likely to die from a stroke, although severe damage is still likely if left untreated too long.
Again, many symptoms are common in men and women, like listed above, while men have certain symptoms that occur more commonly. These include:
- One side of the face suddenly drooping – this may initially appear as an inability to smile
- Issues with speech – namely difficulty speaking, slurring words, and not being able to understand other people’s speech.
Types of Strokes and Their Causes
There are three main types of stroke, each one requiring a unique treatment plan. The causes of each type also differs, while you can expect a different type of recovery depending on the type.
Transient ischemic attack (TIA)
Commonly known as a ministroke, a TIA occurs when there is a temporary blockage of blood flow to the brain. This blockage is usually caused by a blood clot in the brain. Although it is the least severe type of stroke, a TIA is considered a warning sign that you are high risk for a full stroke in the future, so should seek immediate treatment regardless of severity.
Like a TIA, an ischemic stroke happens when there is a blockage in a brain artery, sometimes caused by a blood clot. This can also be caused by a condition called atherosclerosis, in which a plaque develops inside a blood vessel, eventually dislodging itself and causing an artery blockage.
Unlike the other two types of stroke that occur from a blockage, a haemorrhagic stroke occurs when there is a burst blood vessel in the brain. The blood seeps in and around brain tissue, causing significant pressure that can damage cells.
There are two types of haemorrhagic stroke. An aneurysm is the most well-known, which happens when the blood vessel is weakened, often due to high blood pressure, eventually bursting and bleeding.
Arteriovenous malformation is less common, occuring due to irregular connections between veins and arteries, which may eventually cause bleeding in the brain.
Stroke Risk Factors – And How to Reduce Them
There are certain factors that can increase your risk of suffering a stroke. The more risk factors that you face, the likelier it is that you suffer a stroke. Thankfully, many of the risks can be reduced through simply lifestyle changes, minimizing the chances of a stroke in the future.
The most common stroke risk factors include:
An unhealthy diet is a leading risk factor for a stroke. Diets that are rich in salts, fats, and cholesterol increase the risks of having a stroke, as does being overweight. So, it is important to maintain a healthy diet and body-weight to reduce the risk of a stroke, avoiding consuming too many fats, salts, cholesterol.
Living an inactive lifestyle increases the risk of having a stroke. A lack of exercise combined with a mostly sedentary work life (e.g. sitting at a desk for long periods) makes you higher risk for a stroke, so try to incorporate aerobic exercise to combat inactivity – even going for a few walks each week makes all the difference.
Alcohol and Tobacco
Drinking too much alcohol causes a lot of health issues, and this includes increased blood pressure, a leading contributor to an atherosclerosis stroke. Limit alcohol consumption to around one to two glasses per day.
Tobacco smoking significantly increases the risk of a stroke, not to mention countless other health conditions. Smoking damages and weakens blood vessels around the heart, increasing the chances of a stroke, while a higher blood pressure from nicotine consumption can also contribute towards the risk.
Obviously, quitting smoking is the best way toa void the risk of a stroke and many other unwanted health problems.
Other Health Conditions
Various health conditions can contribute towards increased risk of a stroke. For example, high blood pressure and high cholesterol may increase the risk of a blood clot or burst blood vessel in the brain, while various heart conditions like coronary artery disease and valve defects can increase risks.