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Monday, September 08, 2008
Stroke: Do You Know the Warning Signs?
By ELIH @ 8:24 PM :: 3983 Views :: Women's Health, Men's Health, Seniors

What is stroke? A stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain is blocked or bursts. Without blood and the oxygen it carries, part of the brain starts to die. The part of the body controlled by the damaged area of the brain can't work properly. Brain damage can begin within minutes, so it is important to know the symptoms of stroke and act fast. Quick treatment can help limit damage to the brain and increase the chance of a full recovery.

Symptoms of a stroke happen quickly. A stroke may cause sudden:

•Numbness, weakness, or paralysis of the face, arm, or leg.

•Trouble seeing in one or both eyes. You may have double vision, or things may look dim or blurred.

•Confusion or trouble understanding.

•Slurred or garbled speech.

•Trouble walking. You may feel unsteady, dizzy, or clumsy.

•Severe headache.

If you have any of these symptoms, call 911 right away. Stroke is a devastating disease. It affects more than 700,000 Americans each year. Depending on the type of stroke and the area of the brain affected, a stroke can be very debilitating and may cause serious long-term disability.

Research shows that a lot of people are unaware of the causes and warning signs of stroke—facts that could save their lives. Many strokes can be prevented, and those that do strike can often be successfully treated if people seek emergency care right away.

Test Your Stroke Knowledge

True or False

Stroke only occurs in the elderly.TF

False. While stroke risk doubles in each decade over age 55, stroke can occur in younger persons.

If you suspect a stroke, lie down until the symptoms subside. Then, call your doctor.TF

False. Get to the emergency room right away. Speed is critical. Clot-dissolving drugs and other medications can maximize a person's chance for a full recovery if delivered in time.

High blood pressure is the most common risk factor for stroke.TF

True. Persons with high blood pressure have a threefold higher rate of strokes regardless of sex or age. Studies show that even a slight reduction in blood pressure can reduce stroke risk by as much as 42% in people with high blood pressure. Have your blood pressure checked at least annually. If it is elevated, work with your doctor to keep it under control. You can check your blood pressure at your doctor's office, at health fairs or at home with an automatic blood pressure machine.

If the top number (your systolic blood pressure) is consistently above 120 or if the bottom number (your diastolic blood pressure) is consistently over 80, talk to your doctor. If your doctor decides that you have high blood pressure, s/he may recommend some changes in your diet, regular exercise, or medicine.

Other chronic conditions also increase the risk of stroke, including diabetes and high cholesterol. Properly managing these conditions can significantly reduce the possibility of a stroke.

If your total cholesterol level is over 200, talk to your doctor. You may be at increased risk for stroke. High cholesterol can be controlled in some individuals with diet and exercise. Others with high cholesterol may require medicine. Elevated total cholesterol confers a twofold relative increase in stroke risk for men and women. A recent study reported that women aged 45-54 years old had twice the odds of having had a stroke compared to men of the same age.

If you are diabetic, follow your doctor's advice carefully to control your diabetes. Sometimes diabetes can be controlled through careful attention to what you eat. Work with your doctor and a dietitian to develop a healthy eating program that fits your lifestyle. Your doctor can prescribe lifestyle changes and medicine that can help control your diabetes. Having diabetes puts you at an increased risk for stroke; by controlling your diabetes, you may lower your risk for stroke.

Lifestyle choices can reduce your stroke risk, including:

• Quitting Smoking. Research indicates that smoking increases the risk of stroke by 50%. But within five years after quitting, former smokers can expect their risk level to fall to that of people who have never smoked.

• Regular Exercise. A brisk walk for as little as 30 minutes a day can improve your health in many ways, and may reduce your risk for stroke. Moderate exercise has been shown to reduce stroke risk by as much as 41%.

• Limit alcohol to light consumption. Studies now show that drinking up to two alcoholic drinks per day can reduce your risk for stroke by about half. More alcohol than this each day can increase your risk for stroke by as much as three times and can also lead to liver disease, accidents and more. If you drink, the National Stroke Associations recommends no more than two drinks each day, and if you don't drink, don't start. Remember that alcohol is a drug and it can interact with some drugs. It's a good idea to ask your doctor or pharmacist if any of the medicines you are taking could interact with alcohol.

• Diet and Nutrition. By cutting down on sodium and fat in your diet, you may be able to lower your blood pressure and, most importantly, lower your risk for stroke. Work towards a balanced diet each day with plenty of fruits, vegetables, grains, and a moderate amount of protein (meat, fish, eggs, milk, nuts, tofu, and some beans). Adding fiber, such as whole grain bread and cereal products, raw, unpeeled fruits and vegetables and dried beans, to the diet can reduce cholesterol levels by 6 to 19 percent.
Abdominal obesity increases the risk of stroke in women younger than 60 years. Peri-menopausal women are particularly at risk for increases in waist circumference, one risk factor for metabolic syndrome , which if it develops, increases risk of coronary artery disease, diabetes and stroke.

This information is provided by Caroline Gatewood, MD, a diplomate of the American Board of Neurology, on the Medical Staff at Eastern Long Island Hospital. Dr. Gatewood will conduct a free stroke risk screening on Wednesday, May 21, 2008 at the ELIH Gladys Brooks Medical Village, 300 Atlantic Avenue, Greenport. For an appointment, call 631/477-5121.

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