Stroke: Risk Factors, Warning Signs, Prevention

One of the most debilitating medical emergencies affecting older people is a stroke – where the flow of blood to the brain is interrupted and brain cells die. A stroke can leave a loved one unable to care for themselves for a short time while they recover their independence or for an extended period of time where they need intensive care and rehabilitation.

What are the risk factors associated with stroke? How can you tell if you or a loved one is suffering from a stroke? What can you do to prevent one?

There are two basic causes of stroke – the more common blockage or cerebral thrombosis, or a hemorrhage.

A stroke in the left side of the brain can affect movement in the right side of the body as well as speech, language and memory. It may result in aphasia, or the inability to understand conversation or to communicate with others. Left-side stroke victims may be slow; overly cautious; have short-term memory lapses; be confused or disorganized; or may need help with very simple decisions or tasks.

A stroke in the right side of the brain may affect the left side of the body. Victims may have problems with judgment, especially spatial and perceptual problems; difficulty navigating a wheelchair; may have problems telling the insider from the outside of clothing; may exhibit "one-sided neglect" where they only dress one side of the body; may have difficulty driving a care or taking a walk; or may undergo radical personality change or exaggerate and existing personality trait.

The root of the problem is behavior – certain risk factors may contribute to a person’s chances of having a stroke. Individuals who have more than one risk factor have an even higher likelihood of experiencing a stroke. The following are the main risk factors.

  • High Blood Pressure
  • Heart Disease
  • Extra Red Blood Cells
  • High Cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol Abuse
  • Physical Inactivity or Lack of Exercise
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Use of Birth Control Pills
  • Transient Ischemic Attacks

Symptoms of transient ischemic attacks, or TIA, are transient numbness; temporary blindness; difficulty with speech; loss of strength in a limb; or headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, personality change, forgetfulness, or impaired judgment. It is vital to seek professional medical help and testing if you are experiencing these or other symptoms.

Risk Alert Statistics:

  • Risks for a stroke double each decade you live past 55
  • Diabetics are twice as likely to have a stroke as the rest of the population
  • Men are at greater risk than women
  • Individuals in high-stress occupations, blacks and previous stroke victims are more susceptible to stroke
  • Individuals with a history of stroke in their family

You can take steps to intervene and prevent stroke by:

  • Lowering your blood pressure – Gradually change your diet towards healthy habits and away from risky foods. Eat high fiber foods such as fruits and grains, fresh fish and low-sodium foods. Avoid salt, red meat, cheese, milk and milk products, and saturated fats.
  • Increasing exercise – Keep blood flowing smoothly through your body and help your heart and lungs stay healthy. Join and exercise class or club. Walking is as effective as jogging for strengthening the heart, lowering blood pressure and preventing stroke – it also helps to lower weight.
  • Reducing Other Risk Factors – Quitting smoking can lower your stroke risk by 60%. Reduce stress on the job; practice alternate methods of birth control; drink alcohol moderately, seek proper and regular medical attention; and stick with your diet and nutrition program.

Source: International Stroke Foundation

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