Haims: Knowing the signs of a stroke could save a loved one’s life (column) | VailDaily.com

Haims: Knowing the signs of a stroke could save a loved one’s life (column)

Judson Haims
Special to the Daily

Count to 40. Someone in the United States just suffered a stroke. Now do that six times. Someone just died from a stroke. Stokes don't only occur in the elderly. A couple of weeks ago, an ex-student of my wife had a stroke — he's in his 30s.

More than 800,000 people will have a stroke annually in America, making it the fifth-leading cause of death and the leading cause of adult disability.

A stroke is an attack on the brain. It happens when a blood vessel bringing blood and oxygen to the brain gets blocked or ruptures. When blood can't get to the brain, millions of cells begin to die. The longer it's left untreated, the more severe the damage. That means that the clock is ticking when a stroke hits. Knowing what to look for and how to act is of the utmost importance.

Stokes impact the brain

“Detecting the signs of stroke and getting quick treatment is important because medication must be given within the first three hours of the onset of a stroke.”

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"Mini strokes," or TIAs (transient ischemic attack), can be less harmful than strokes because the interruption in blood flow is often brief as the blockage/clot often gets dislodged or dissolves on its own. Often, such episodes only last a minute or two. However, such an episode should not be taken lightly. TIAs are frequently warning signs of a more serious concern — a full blockage, or "stroke."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while stroke can strike anyone, women, African-Americans and Hispanics older than 55 are most at risk. In fact, strokes kill twice as many African-Americans than Caucasians. People with a family history of stroke or those who have suffered smaller blockages and strokes are also at greater risk.

Stroke affects the brain, so it's hard to realize when someone is having one. Detecting the signs of stroke and getting quick treatment is important because medication must be given within the first three hours of the onset of a stroke.

In order to detect a stroke, use the FAST acronym:

• Face drooping. Is a part of the face numb or droopy? Is the smile lopsided?

• Arm weakness. Is one arm weak or numb? Can the arms be lifted or does one drop down?

• Speech difficulty. Is the speech slurred? Can a simple sentence be repeated?

• Time to call 911. If any of these symptoms are present, call 911 and tell the operator you are calling to report a stroke. Make note of the time of the first symptoms.

There may be other symptoms, including severe headaches with no known cause, dizziness or loss of balance and vision trouble from one or both eyes.

An ounce of prevention

Prevention is the path of least resistance. Managing any chronic condition and making healthy lifestyle choices can drastically reduce the odds of stroke. To manage chronic conditions:

• Treat high blood pressure: Doing so is the most important way to avoid stroke.

• Manage diabetes: Diabetes causes destructive changes in the brain's blood vessels and increases the risk of stroke.

• Treat high cholesterol: Too much cholesterol in the blood can build up on artery walls, increasing the risk of stroke.

• Quit smoking: Smoking cigarettes can double your risk of stroke because it narrows and thickens blood vessels.

• Eat fruits and vegetables: A diet low in sodium, processed foods and saturated fats greatly improves health.

• Move more: Regular exercise helps ward off high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

If you're worried that your loved one is at risk or might have suffered a stroke, then seek immediate medical attention.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. Contact him at 970-328-5526 or visit http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns.