What is a stroke?
A stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain is blocked or bursts, stopping blood flow. Without blood and the essential oxygen it carries, the affected part of the brain starts to die. The region of the body controlled by the damaged area of the brain can’t work properly.
Stroke affects more than 700,000 Americans each year, and in many cases it causes serious, long-term disability.
How can I reduce my stroke risk?
Many stroke risk factors are controllable. Managing risk can greatly reduce your likelihood of stroke.
What are risk factors are controllable?
The most significant controllable risk factor is high blood pressure. Those with high blood pressure have three times the rate of stroke. Even a slight reduction in blood pressure may reduce stroke risk by nearly half. Talk to your doctor about controlling blood pressure through diet, exercise and/or medication.
Manage diabetes and high cholesterol. Your doctor can advise you on controlling cholesterol with diet, exercise and perhaps medication. If you are diabetic, follow your doctor’s advice carefully to control the condition.
Inflammation has been found to increase the risk of stroke and heart attack. A blood test called C-Reactive Protein (CRP) can help assess inflammation. Reduce the amount of sugar, refined carbohydrates and corn oil in your diet as these foods increase inflammation. Try to include foods high in omega 3 in your diet, such as oily fish and nuts, as these foods help reduce inflammation. (Avoid fish that are high in mercury, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel and albacore tuna.)
Quit smoking. Studies have shown cigarette smoking to be an important risk factor for stroke.
Incorporate regular physical activity into your day. A more active life equals reduced stroke risk.
How important is stroke screening?
Most stroke patients were unaware of their risk before the incident, or did not understand the steps they could take to help prevent stroke. Stroke screening will help you identify your own risk factors, and give you the information and tools you need to control your risk of stroke. Annual stroke screenings are recommended.
What happens during the screening?
During a screening, a history with emphasis on symptoms and risk factors is obtained. A focused examination is done. The doctor looks for signs of previous TIA (a “mini-stroke” producing symptoms that last less than 24 hours) or stroke and risk factors for future TIA or stroke. At the conclusion of screening, patients are counseled about their individual risk factors and means of controlling them.
How is a stroke diagnosis made?
Once symptoms and medical history are reviewed and a basic examination is completed, images of the brain will be required to help in diagnosis.
Brain images are first obtained on a CT scan, an effective test for hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding in or around the brain), which causes about 20% of strokes.
Doctors may also obtain a Diffusion MRI scan to detect evidence of the most common type of stroke, ischemic stroke (blockage without bleeding). Diffusion MRI is the most accurate and immediate way to diagnose ischemic stroke.
Rapid, accurate diagnosis is key when a patient presents with stroke symptoms.
This information is provided by Caroline V. Gatewood, MD, a board certified neurologist on the Medical Staff at Eastern Long Island Hospital.