Stroke Awareness Month

National Stroke Awareness Month coincides with National Blood Pressure Awareness Month because the two issues are closely interconnected. The numbers are surprisingly high on a national level. Strokes are the 3rd leading cause of death in the US, with over 140,000 deaths each year. Almost 800,000 suffer a stroke each year in America and it is the leading cause of long term disability in the US. Alabama is well above the national average in both stroke occurrences and deaths. Strokes, the cost of treating and care, cost the US nearly $34 billion each year.

A stroke occurs when blood flow is interrupted to a part of the brain. This can result from either a blocked artery or a leaking, bursting blood vessel. There are two main types of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic. Strokes can happen at any age, but most commonly occur in people over the age of 55.

Ischemic strokes account for 80% of strokes. It is when an artery to the brain is narrowed or blocked and reduces blood flow to the brain. Thrombotic stroke, a type of Ischemic stroke, is when a blood clot forms in an artery that supplies blood to the brain. This is usually caused by fatty deposits (plaque) that blocks the pathways. Embolic stroke is when a blood clot or other debris forms away from the brain (usually the heart) and is carried through the blood stream and then lodges in a narrower brain artery and blocks it. Hemorrhagic strokes occur when a vessel in the brain leaks or bursts. This can be caused by uncontrolled high blood pressure, overtreatment with anticoagulants (blood thinners), and aneurysms.

TIA, or transient ischemic attack, is a temporary disruption of blood flow to the brain. This is known commonly as a mini-stroke and usually presents no lasting damage. These strokes can present the same symptoms as an ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke but the symptoms can last as little as 5 minutes. It is important to seek emergency care even if the symptoms dissipate. You are at a greater risk of having another, full-blown stroke if you suffer a TIA, and there is likely a partially blocked artery still present.

The risk factors of a stroke include: being overweight, physically inactive, heavy (binge) drinking, use of illicit drugs such as meth/cocaine, high blood pressure, smoking tobacco, high cholesterol, diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, cardiovascular disease, and a family history of stroke. Men are more likely to have a stroke than women, especially over the age of 55. African Americans are at a greater risk of stroke, as well. Women who use birth control or other hormone supplements are at a greater risk than those who do not.

There are many lasting complications of strokes. Localized paralysis, difficulty swallowing or talking, memory loss, emotional problems, pain, and behavioral changes are the most commonly reported complications after a stroke. People who suffer strokes may report an inability to control emotions and frequently develop depression. They also can become less social, more withdrawn, and more impulsive. Many of these complications can be helped with therapy (physical, mental, and speech) and can go away with time.

It is of the utmost importance to know, and be able to identify, the signs of a stroke. A person who is suffering a stroke may have trouble speaking or understanding, trouble seeing, severe headache, and trouble walking/dizziness. These symptoms have a sudden onset. They do not build up gradually. Medical personnel want you to remember an easy acronym to help save a life – FAST.

F – Face, one side of the face is drooping

A – Arm, one arm is drooping

S – Speech, speech is slurred or strange

T – Time, call 9-1-1 immediately

Seeking emergency medical attention in a quick manner is essential! Every minute counts in treatment! The longer a stroke is left untreated, the greater the chance of lasting brain damage or physical disability.

Please talk to your doctor about your family history of strokes and any of the risk factors you may have. If your doctor prescribes a medication, take it as prescribed. This can help save a life. Come into your local pharmacy and speak with your healthcare team about any medication questions you may have and also about your options for smoking cessation and blood pressure monitoring. We are here to help!

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