Someone in the United States has a stroke every forty seconds. Two-thirds of those strokes occur in people over 65.
According to the Stroke Association, one in eight strokes is fatal within the first 30 days, and that number jumps to one in four in the first year. They’re also the leading cause of disability in older adults – strokes reduce mobility in more than half of survivors 65 and over.
Fortunately, if you recognize the signs and get help quickly, you’re much less likely to experience long-term complications. Keep reading to learn more about risk factors, ways to reduce your stroke risk, and what to do if you see any signs.
What is a Stroke?
The Mayo Clinic says a stroke “occurs when the blood supply to part of your brain is interrupted or reduced, preventing brain tissue from getting oxygen and nutrients.”
There are two main kinds of stroke:
- Ischemic: This is the most common kind. It’s caused by a blood clot or narrowing of a blood vessel leading to the brain. They are often the result of a blood clot within the brain or neck or the movement of a clot from another part of the body.
- Hemorrhagic: The second major kind of stroke occurs when a broken blood vessel causes bleeding in the brain. The bleeding can block oxygen and nutrients from reaching the brain.
When someone experiences a stroke, the brain cells that don’t get enough oxygen will suffer and eventually die. Treatment may repair damaged cells, but it is impossible to bring back dead cells. That’s why people who had a stroke may have trouble thinking, speaking, or walking.
Signs and Symptoms
Knowing the signs and symptoms of a stroke can help you identify one and get the necessary help quickly. According to the American Stroke Association, these signs can help determine if you or a loved one need to seek medical care:
Face drooping – Does one side of the face droop or feel numb? Is your smile uneven?
Arm weakness – Is one arm weak or numb, or does it drift downward?
Speech difficulty – Is your speech slurred? Do you find it difficult or impossible to speak?
Time to call for help – If you or someone else suffers from these symptoms, call 911 immediately. Check the time, so you know when the symptoms first began.
Acting quickly can mean the difference between life and disability or death.
Lower Your Risk of Stroke
Some risk factors for stroke, like age and family history, can’t be avoided. But simple changes to your lifestyle can prevent many others. To help mitigate your risk, follow these suggestions:
- Stop smoking. No matter how old you are, quitting smoking makes a huge difference. It’s never too late! Control your blood pressure. If your blood pressure is high, follow your doctor’s recommendations to control it. Treating high blood pressure helps prevent both heart disease and stroke.
- Monitor your cholesterol. Cholesterol can build up in arteries, blocking blood flow and leading to stroke. If you have high cholesterol, work with your doctor to lower it.
- Manage your diabetes. Untreated diabetes can damage blood vessels, narrow arteries and lead to stroke. Follow your doctor’s directions to keep your condition under control.
- Exercise regularly and eat well. Try to maintain a healthy lifestyle, including plenty of physical activity.
If you suspect that you or a loved one has suffered a stroke, seek immediate medical attention. A doctor will diagnose based on symptoms, medical history, and tests such as a CT scan.
Treatment after a stroke may include therapy, rehabilitation, medication, or surgery. Antithrombotics are commonly used to prevent or treat stroke and help dissolve the blood clot that is blocking blood flow to the brain. Surgeries, including angioplasty and stenting, can repair damage to blood vessels or malformations in the brain.
Some people make a full recovery soon after a stroke, but others can take months or even years. Sometimes, the damage is so severe that rehabilitation and therapy can’t really help.
Remember: the best treatment is prevention! Talk to your doctor today to find out how you can lower your risk of stroke.