Preventing Strokes

R.W. FRELICK, M.D.

 

The most common type of stroke is cause by the lack of a blood supply to one or more vessels of the brain. A stroke is more likely to occur after the age of 50, but can even develop in children. It is often associated with a history of high blood pressure (hypertension), and / or a disturbance of the blood lipids (most commonly) measured by the level of cholesterol in the blood. Those lipids develop into plaques that can slowly grow to obstruct one of the main arteries to the brain, and/ or within one of the smaller end arteries to a localized area of the brain. These smaller arteries in the brain are called “end arteries” because they lack the rich capillary network found in most other parts of the body. An obstruction of one of these small end arteries can cause damage to a specific part of the brain such as speech or control of an arm.

 

Bleeding from a leak in one or more brain blood vessels can frequently be related to a small “bubble” called an aneurysm of a blood vessel which may be inherited. It may rupture at any age but more commonly after 50 years of age. Some may never leak. High blood pressures may be a factor. A brain tumor – whether a primary or secondary cancer starting in another part of the body- can also cause a stroke like attack.

 

Brain Attack/Stroke Risk Factors:

High blood pressures, increased weight (obesity), elevated cholesterol, increased blood sugars (diabetes), use of tobacco, excessive alcohol consumption and recreational drug use such as cocaine and amphetamines. The presence of multiple risk factors increases stroke risk. It is extremely important to keep the blood pressure under control. That is usually possible by taking prescribed blood pressure medications, avoiding salt, exercising and having the blood pressure checked regularly

 

The Surgeon General reported a few years ago that ap-proximately 300,000 Americans die each year from ill-nesses related to obesity. 60% of adults are overweight and childhood obesity is an epidemic.

 

People using warfarin (Coumadin) for an irregular heart rate called atrial fibrillation need to have their blood tests carefully and frequently checked to prevent bleeding. Hitting one’s head when falling is responsible for 24% of bleeding in the brain in older individuals (called intracranial hemorrhage).

 

Healthy Lifestyles

Adopting a healthy lifestyle can not only reduce the risk of a stroke, but of many other diseases. A diet low in saturated fats, excessive sodium (salt), and sugar has been shown to help prevent stroke and heart disease. Likewise the importance of 30 minutes of physical exercise at least 3 times per week has been scientifically shown to be an effective way to maintain a healthy life. Everyone should avoid smoking, exposure to second hand smoke, recreational drugs of all kinds and drinking more than two alcoholic beverages in anyone day.

 

Annual Physical Exams and Medical Follow-up

Everyone should have regular checkups by their primary health care provider as is appropriate for their age and gender. It is important to monitor weight, blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood sugar. In addition to stroke risk factors, having mammograms, Pap smears and colonoscopy as recommended can help catch cancers early.

 

Take Action When Symptoms Occur! If you or someone with you experiences:

Sudden weakness or numbness

Sudden change in vision

Sudden difficulty in speaking

Sudden dizziness or severe headache

 

 

Call 911 immediately!

Do not wait for such symptoms to go away. It is very important to get to the hospital immediately when stroke symptoms begin. This can help limit injury and improve recovery from a stroke/brain attack.