On this, the last day of Heart Awareness Month, I thought I'd talk a bit about strokes.
The thought of you or a loved one suffering a stroke is very scary. I have firsthand experience with this. I was 13 when my paternal grandmother died from a massive stroke. In addition to causing death, stroke is major cause of serious long-term disability and suffering for patients and their families.
Strokes go by many names, and there are a couple different kinds but, simply put, a stroke is are a cessation of blood flow somewhere in the brain. The loss of blood supply can last from a few seconds to the rest of your life, and can affect any area of the brain, large or small. In the old days, strokes used to be called “apoplexy,” but now they all come under the heady title of “cerebrovascular accident.”
There are many risk factors for stroke. Some of the more common include:
- Family history
- Advancing age
- Race (African Americans have higher rates of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and tobacco use, all of which are independent risk factors for stroke)
- High blood pressure
- High inflammation marker scores, such as CRP, homocysteine, fibrinogen, and Lp(a)
While the symptoms some strokes are easy to recognize—weakness or sudden loss of control over one or more parts of the body, imbalance, dizziness, impaired vision, slurred speech or difficulty speaking—others are more subtle and challenging.
People may stumble, grope for words, or have one hand feel a little numb. Unfortunately, they often shake off the signs, and 15 minutes later they are fine. Then, the next day, or sometime during the following weeks, they may have a massive, more serious stroke.
Recognizing a stroke also can be more difficult in women. Their symptoms tend to be “non-traditional” and include facial pain, one-sided limb pain, chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations, nausea, and nonspecific neurological symptoms such as hiccups and generalized weakness.
If you experience any traditional or non-traditional symptoms of stroke, call your physician immediately and get to an emergency care facility. In case of more severe symptoms such as fluctuations of consciousness, slurred speech, or profound sudden weakness of one side of the body, don’t wait—call 911.