Recognizing the Signs
Prompt and appropriate care is crucial in treating acute stroke patients and preventing long-term disability. Studies show that those patients who are treated within a few hours of an acute stroke using specialized treatments and medications at the hands of a dedicated and coordinated team of physicians and health providers experience the most positive outcomes.
Each individual may experience symptoms differently. If any of these symptoms are present, call 911 (or the local ambulance service) immediately. Treatment is most effective when started immediately.
Symptoms may be sudden and include:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
All of the above warning signs may not occur with each stroke. Do not ignore any of the warning signs, even if they go away - take action immediately. The symptoms of stroke may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.
Evaluating the risk for stroke is based on heredity, natural processes, and lifestyle. Many risk factors for stroke can be changed or managed, while others that relate to hereditary or natural processes cannot be changed. Non-modifiable risk factors include advancing age, heredity, race and gender.
For each decade of life after age 55, the chance of having a stroke more than doubles. The chance of stroke is greater in people who have a family history of stroke. African-Americans have a much higher risk of death and disability from a stroke than Caucasians, in part because the African-American population has a greater incidence of high blood pressure. In most age groups, more men than women will have a stroke in a given year. At all ages, however, more women than men die of stroke.
Stroke risk factors and management:
High blood pressure is on of the most common causes of stroke. Most people with high blood pressure have no symptoms at all. For people over the age of 18, good blood pressure is considered lower than 120/80. A blood pressure reading consistently higher than 120/80, up to 139/89 is considered pre-hypertension. High blood pressure is a measurement of 140/90. By cutting back on the salt in any diet, the risk of stroke may decrease because of lowered blood pressure.
Lowering cholesterol levels may reduce your risk of stroke. High cholesterol puts an individual at a greater risk for heart disease, which can increase the risk of stroke. Often, high cholesterol can be controlled with diet and exercise, but medications may also be prescribed to help lower cholesterol.
Having diabetes increases the risk of stroke. Diabetes is defined as a fasting blood glucose of 126 mg/dL or higher. Pre-diabetes is defined as a fasting blood glucose of 100-125 mg/dL. Follow a doctor’s advice carefully to get blood sugar levels under control.
Cigarette smoking doubles the risk for stroke. Smoking reduces oxygen in the blood and makes clots more likely to form. It also causes temporary increases in blood pressure. For persons who stop smoking today, the risk for stroke will immediately begin to drop. Within five years of quitting, individual stroke risk may be the same as that of someone who has never smoked.
An irregular heart rhythm such as atrial fibrillation also raises the risk for stroke. Atrial fibrillation occurs when there is an abnormal quivering of the heart’s upper chambers which can cause blood to pool and form clots causing a stroke. To lower the risk of stroke, blood thinners may be prescribed by a doctor to help reduce the blood’s ability to clot.
Regular physical activity improves blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. The health benefits of exercise can be gained by doing 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity daily. Before starting a vigorous exercise program, check with a doctor.
Heavy alcohol consumption can increase risk of stroke. More than two drinks per day raises blood pressure and binge drinking increases risk of stroke.
Specific treatment for stroke will be determined by a physician based on age, overall health, medical history severity of the stroke, location of the stroke, cause of the stroke, patient tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies, type of stroke as well as the patient’s opinion or preference.
Medications used to the dissolve blood clot(s) that cause an ischemic stroke have the ability to help reduce the damage to brain cells caused by the stroke. In order to be most effective, these agents must be given within a few hours of a stroke's onset. Although there is no cure for stroke, advanced medical and surgical treatments are now available, giving many stroke victims hope for optimal recovery.
In the rehabilitation process the patient can expect to achieve the highest level of independence and quality of life possible - physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. Rehabilitation does not reverse or undo the damage caused by a stroke, but rather helps restore the individual to optimal health, functioning, and well-being.
The effects of stroke vary from person to person based on the type, severity, and location of the stroke. The brain is extremely complex and each area of the brain is responsible for a special function or ability. When an area of the brain is damaged, which typically occurs with a stroke, an impairment may result. An impairment is the loss of normal function of part of the body. Sometimes, an impairment may result in a disability, or inability to perform an activity in a normal way.
The outlook for stroke patients today is more hopeful than ever due to advances in both stroke treatment and rehabilitation. Stroke rehabilitation works best when the patient, family, and rehabilitation staff works together as a team. Family members must learn about impairments and disabilities caused by the stroke and how to help the patient achieve optimal function again. Rehabilitation medicine is designed to meet each person's specific needs; thus, each program is different.