May is Stroke Awareness Month

Strokes are a leading cause of disability and death, but taking action to improve your health can lower your risk.

A stroke happens when the flow of blood to the brain is interrupted, nearly always because something like a blood clot blocks the flow. High blood pressure can worsen a condition called atherosclerosis, in which your arteries get hard and narrow, and are less able to allow blood to flow freely to the brain. High blood pressure also damages blood vessels, causing them to break open and form clots which break free and travel to the brain, creating a blockage.

These traveling blood clots can also signal a dangerous irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation, or AFib for short. If you have AFib, you are 5 times more likely to suffer from a stroke. Fortunately, there are effective treatments for AFib.

Be aware of blood pressure problems

A blood pressure measurement of 120 over 80 or less is ideal. If either number is higher, you are at greater risk of suffering a stroke. There are a number of other risk factors associated with high blood pressure, some of which are easier to control and manage than others.

Risk factors that you can manage

– Smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke
– Diabetes (which can be managed with diet, exercise and medication)
– Being overweight
– High cholesterol
– Poor diet
– Physical inactivity

Other risk factors that are more difficult to control

– Family history of high blood pressure
– Race / ethnicity
– Age
– Gender (men are at greater risk than women)
– Chronic kidney disease
– Obstructive sleep apnea

Take control of high blood pressure

Making healthy lifestyle choices is the right way to start managing high blood pressure. Choose fresh foods and exercise. If you smoke, get help to stop. Learn to manage your stress. And if that’s not enough, talk to your doctor about medications that can help you better manage your blood pressure.

Spotting a stroke – FAST action is key to preventing lasting injury or even death from stroke

Would you know if someone were having a stroke? The letters in the word “FAST” are an easy way to remember what to look for and what to do. Follow these recommendations from the American Stroke Association:

F- Face drooping

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

A – Arm weakness

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

S – Speech

Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence.

T – Time to call 9-1-1

If the person shows any of these symptoms – even if the symptoms go away – call 9-1-1 and get them to the hospital right away.

Atrial fibrillation increases stroke risk by 5 times – medication can help

When the heart beats too rapidly during AFib, it isn’t able to drain properly between beats. Blood pools in the heart, forms clots, and those clots can break free and travel to the brain. Fortunately, there are a number of medications available to help manage AFib.

Some medications help control heart rate to keep the heart from beating too rapidly. Others help control heart rhythm to keep the heart beating properly.

Other drugs, called anticoagulants, help to break up clots before they can lodge in the arteries and interrupt blood flow. These drugs are often called “blood thinners.” Doctors often prescribe a low dose aspirin regimen to help prevent clots, but for patients needing more, there are several anticoagulants drugs available. Here are a few of the most commonly prescribed drugs to prevent clots:

  • clopidogrel (Plavix™)
  • apixaban (Eliquis™)
  • rivaroxaban (Xarelto™)
  • dabigatran (Pradaxa™)
  • warfarin (Coumadin™)

Stay stroke aware

Knowing risk factors, taking steps to manage them, and knowing what to do in the event of a stroke can help save your life – or perhaps the life of a loved one. Make lifestyle changes to reduce your chance of stroke, and talk with your doctor about whether medication would help.