Stroke Awareness Month
May is Stroke Awareness Month, an opportunity to raise awareness about strokes and their impact on individuals and communities. Strokes can happen to anyone, regardless of age or gender, and can lead to serious disability or even death. A stroke is a life-altering event for the patient as well as family members and caretakers. Knowing the warning signs and symptoms of a stroke is crucial to seek help immediately and minimize the damage.
A stroke occurs when the blood flow to the brain is interrupted or reduced, which can happen in two ways. The first is an ischemic stroke, caused by a blockage in a blood vessel that supplies blood to the brain. The second is a hemorrhagic stroke caused by the rupture of a blood vessel in the brain. Both types can be fatal, and early treatment is essential to minimize the damage.
In either case, seeking medical attention by calling 911 or going to the closest emergency department is crucial in receiving time-sensitive treatment to improve the chances of favorable outcomes and reduce longterm disability.
The following are the warning signs of stroke that should alarm patients. Sudden onset of one of the following symptoms should prompt patients to call 911 and reach the nearest emergency department.
Remember the acronym B.E.F.A.S.T.:
• B: Balance loss or dizziness
• E: Eye vision changes or loss
• F: Face drooping or numbness on one side
• A: Arm weakness or numbness on one side
• S: Speech difficulty or slurring
• T: Time to call emergency services right away
Usual risk factors for stroke include high uncontrolled blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, uncontrolled diabetes, obesity and family history of stroke. Managing and reducing these modifiable risk factors for stroke is the single most effective intervention to reduce the likelihood of having a stroke. However, it is important to note that strokes can occur without any warning signs, which is why it is critical to understand the common symptoms of a stroke.
Eating a healthy and balanced diet is also essential for preventing stroke. A diet high in fiber, fruits, vegetables and whole grains and low in saturated fats, cholesterol and sodium can help reduce the risk of stroke. It is also important to limit alcohol consumption, as excessive drinking can increase the risk of stroke. Exercise can help maintain a healthy weight, lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels and improve overall cardiovascular health. It is recommended that adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week.
Smoking is a significant risk factor for stroke, and quitting smoking is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of stroke. Smoking damages blood vessels and increases the risk of blood clots, which can lead to a stroke. Quitting smoking can also help lower blood pressure and improve overall cardiovascular health. Additionally, managing blood pressure and diabetes is crucial in preventing stroke. High blood pressure and diabetes can damage blood vessels and increase the risk of a stroke. It is important to monitor blood pressure and blood sugar levels regularly and take medications as prescribed by a doctor.
Getting regular check-ups with your primary care physician plays a critical role in monitoring and controlling the risk factors and eventually reducing the odds of having a stroke.
For those who have experienced a stroke, rehabilitation services can help them regain strength, mobility and independence. Rehabilitation can include physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. Physical therapy can help stroke patients improve their strength, balance and coordination. It involves a range of exercises and techniques that aim to improve mobility and prevent further loss of muscle strength. Occupational therapy focuses on helping patients perform the activities of daily living, such as dressing, grooming and eating. It aims to improve the patient’s independence and quality of life. Speech therapy helps patients overcome communication difficulties, such as aphasia or dysarthria, and aims to improve the patient’s ability to speak, listen, read and write.
is an opportunity to raise awareness about strokes and the importance of recognizing the warning signs and symptoms. By understanding the risk factors and taking preventative measures, individuals can reduce their risk of stroke. For those who have experienced a stroke, rehabilitation services can help them recover and regain their independence. Remember to BEFAST and call emergency services immediately if any stroke symptoms appear.
Himanshu Chokhawala, MD, is a clinical assistant professor of neurology at LSU Health Shreveport.