Strokes and what you need to know.
What is a stroke?
Strokes are one of the most prevalent healthcare issues facing people in the United States today and affect nearly 800,000 individuals. Women are more at risk than men for strokes, with 55,000 more females than males experiencing the condition. Strokes are either caused by a rupture in the brain's blood vessels that bleeds out into the surrounding area, or a blockage of a vessel somewhere in the body. Both these situations can lead to a lack of oxygen to the brain which causes rapid tissue and cell damage that can result in brain damage, long-term disability, and even loss of life.
Symptoms of a Stroke
Strokes tend to come on very quickly and require immediate treatment at a hospital to help minimize the effects in the brain. It's highly recommended to seek diagnosis and treatment within 3 hours of the first indication that there is a problem. If you're experiencing any of following symptoms, try to contact 911 immediately, even if you're unsure if you're having a stroke:
- Paralysis or numbness, especially on just one side of the body
- Slurred speech and difficulty talking
- Blurred vision and dizziness
- Difficulty walking and maintaining your balance
- A sharp, strong headache
- Confusion and memory issues
Some additional symptoms that tend to be exhibited in women, but can also occur in men, include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fainting or overall weakness
- Shortness of breath
- Hallucinations or behavior change
All these symptoms tend to come on very suddenly, which is another indication that you could be having a stroke.
Types of Stroke and Their Causes
During ischemic strokes, a blockage occurs in an artery that supplies oxygenated blood to the brain. There are two types of ischemic stroke:
- Thrombotic strokes occur when a blood clot causes the blockage in an artery outside the brain.
- Embolic strokes occur when a blood clot, plaque, or fatty deposit travels through the bloodstream and causes the blockage in an artery within the brain.
Some common causes of ischemic strokes include blood clots brought on by a build-up of plaque or fat deposits within the artery, known as atherosclerosis, heart conditions such as atrial fibrillation, and blood disorders.
Hemorrhagic strokes occur when a blood vessel either ruptures or leaks blood, which causes pressure to build up in the brain. The two types of hemorrhagic strokes are:
- Intracerebral strokes, where the leak occurs within the brain.
- Subarachnoid strokes, where the leak occurs on the surface of the brain.
These types of strokes are typically caused by high blood pressure, arterial and vein malformations, and aneurysms.
Transient Ischemic strokes (mini stroke)
Transient Ischemic strokes, also known as TIAs or mini strokes, have all the same causes and types as regular ischemic strokes. The only difference is that the blockage occurs for just a short time and then stops. TIAs are considered warning signs by healthcare professionals that a regular stroke is coming very soon and it is therefore recommended to seek care at a hospital immediately.
After a stroke, you may experience issues with speech, memory, focus, and cognition, as well as physical issues with balance, walking, and other mobility issues. Successful recovery involves specific therapies and support interventions that can increase your chances for a return to independence, as well as continued improvement during the post-stroke period.
After a stroke you may experience muscle weakness and partial paralysis that can lead to joint issues, muscle stiffness, and injury. Physical therapists work with you to provide appropriate exercises that assist you with relearning motor activities, strengthening your muscles, and improving your joint flexibility. They also give expert advice on techniques for properly sitting, standing, lying down, and moving between these positions. Therapies may also include nontraditional practices such as yoga, which has been found to be very useful in improving balance and quality of life after a stroke.
An occupational therapist can assist you with relearning daily activities such as showering, cooking, dressing, eating, and exercising that may be impeded due to partial paralysis or weakness after a stroke. They can also assist with recommendations for stretching and rebuilding your muscles, as well as practicing movements and techniques that will help get you back to your everyday routine faster.
Many people have trouble communicating after a stroke, and this includes issues with swallowing, forming sounds, and remembering words and phrases. Speech therapists are trained to provide exercises, strategies, and tools that help prompt memory and teach techniques to improve speaking, facial movements, reading, and writing skills.
Family and friends
Surrounding yourself with caring loved ones is an important part of rehabilitation because the changes you are experiencing may require an increased level of physical and emotional support. The National Stroke Association provides a number of educational programs and resources for caregivers, family, friends, and those who've experienced a stroke to help ensure positive recovery outcomes.
Mental health support
There are also online, phone, and in-person support groups and counselors that not only provide practical information about ongoing care but offer caring and warm social support to help you through the challenges of a stroke. The American Stroke Association (ASA) offers a Warmline that can be reached at 1-888-478-7653, where you can speak with someone who has been where you are now. They also provide a nationwide database of support groups, including many that hold meetings throughout Georgia. For online support, The Stroke Network offers a variety of supportive chat rooms, educational and health resources, and even an informative handbook for caregivers.
Preventing a first stroke or a recurrence is to address the underlying causes. This is best achieved through lifestyle changes that lead to optimal conditions in your body. Take a look at these top strategies to help deter your risk.
A Healthy Diet
Maintaining a healthy weight through proper dietary choices is one of the best preventative measures to reduce the risk of stroke. The American Heart Association recommends reducing sodium and saturated fat levels, and eating five servings of fruit and vegetables each day. It can also be helpful to replace vegetable oil with more natural oils such as olive or coconut oil, and to cut back on added sugars while adding in more high-fiber, complex carbohydrate foods.
Regular, moderate levels of weekly exercise have been shown to reduce the risk of stroke by more than 25%, primarily through reduced plaque buildup, lowered blood pressure, and decreased incidents of atherosclerosis, heart disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes. It's recommended to engage in around 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at least 5 days per week. Yoga has also shown promise for reducing stroke risk through lowered blood pressure, glucose, and lipid levels.
Additional Preventative Measures
- Avoid smoking tobacco: it can damage your heart and blood vessels
- Avoid alcohol or practice moderation: it can cause high blood pressure and lead to atherosclerosis
- Keep blood pressure under control: it can lead to hemorrhagic strokes
- Manage diabetes: it can increase your risk for a stroke by 2 to 4 times due to the higher levels of blood glucose, which causes fatty deposits to form in your arteries
We understand the challenges that loved ones and those experiencing a stroke face and have the resources to help. Contact Church Home LifeSpring today to learn more about how we can guide you through the healing care needed for optimal recovery from your stroke, and provide you with the best preventative measures for moving forward.