Chronic Disease & Prevention · Stroke

Stroke: Prevention

Welcome back to part II of my mini stroke series. As I mentioned last week, many things can cause and increase the risk for a stroke. The not so great thing is, once a stroke occurs, there is not much that can be done to reverse the damage.

Yes, there is a drug called tPA, or tissue plasminogen activator, that can be given to stroke patients to “dissolve” a clot that may be causing the stroke. This medication has proven fairly effective at reversing any new-onset symptoms that occur as the stroke presents, such as inability to talk or make sense (aphasia), numbness in an arm or a leg, drooping of one side of the face, etc.

However, here’s the skinny on this method:

  • It is only effective for ischemic strokes, or the ones caused by a clot.
  • It must be given within 4 hours of stroke onset to be most effective.
  • It CANNOT be given to anyone at risk for bleeding. For example, anyone who takes a blood thinner daily such as coumadin/warfarin, xarelto or eliquis.
  • There is a risk that this medication can cause subsequent bleeding that may be difficult to control→ potentially causing the other kind of stroke (hemorrhagic)

Alas, the best way to treat a stroke is to completely prevent it in the first place. And, if that can’t be done, the second best treatment is early recognition of stroke symptoms.

As community members, we all have the responsibility to recognize signs and symptoms of a stroke. These can be easily remembered with the acronym FAST which stands for:

  • Facial drooping
  • Arm or leg numbness or weakness, probably on one side of the body
  • Slurred speech
  • TIME is BRAIN→ meaning, if you see someone with these symptoms, call 911 immediately to give them the best chance at both survival and avoiding any lasting effects of a stroke.

FAST pic

You can do this. Don’t be a bystander. Be empowered.

My hope, though, is that we can all prevent strokes from happening in the first place. But, how?

  1. Keep all healthcare provider appointments and follow-up as recommended.

 

 

This is especially true if you are being treated for conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes or atrial fibrillation (irregular heart rhythm). It is of utmost importance to make sure these conditions are being properly controlled and that you are on the correct medications.

This is also true if you view yourself as a healthy individual and/or haven’t yet been diagnosed with any risk factors for a stroke. Seeing a primary healthcare provider around the same time every year will allow them to screen you for such diseases and begin treatment as soon as possible.

PS–>prevention exams and screenings ARE FREE on most insurances. You may have to pay a co-pay, but seriously, isn’t your ability to function in life for as long as you can worth that co-pay?

  1. STOP SMOKING

For real.

Obviously, you do you and continue smoking if you want. However, also know that smoking has an incredibly large impact on the risk of developing numerous healthcare issues including but not limited to: chronic lung disease, stroke, heart attack and diabetes. 

  1. Exercise, eat a healthy diet and lose or maintain a healthy weight.

A healthy weight is a Body Mass Index (BMI) of less than 25. And I know, why is it that healthcare providers stress this so much?? We stress it because a lack of exercise, a poor diet full of high-fat/high-sugar foods and a BMI greater than 25 have been proven over and over to put individuals at high risk for these chronic diseases I keep talking about, which have lasting effects on our quality of life.

The simple addition of a brisk walk for 2.5 hours over the course of a week could reduce your risk quite a bit. That is 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.

  1. Decrease undue stress in your life.

Stress increases blood pressure. High blood pressure increases the risk of having a stroke. So, take some time for yourself every day and don’t over-commit or take on more than you can feasibly handle. Meditation, yoga, reading, tub-bathing, massage, pedicures and many other activities can help with this.

  1. Remember, just because this is the way it has always been, doesn’t mean it has to continue this way.

By this tip I mean a few things.

For example, I used to do healthcare screenings for corporations. Sometimes I would get an employee who had a blood pressure of say 156/95. Not the highest I have ever seen, but not controlled. I would discuss why this is an issue and often get the response– “oh that is normal for me”. FACT: THIS IS NEVER NORMAL. Just because it has been this high for a long time, does not mean that it should be and your risk for chronic disease has not gotten better. The latest recommendations for blood pressure are less than 130/80.

In the same light, just because you have been overextended on commitments in the past does not mean you have to stay over-committed. Evaluate which parts of your life are actually important to you and your happiness and prioritize them. Start saying no to new commitments and tell yourself that it is okay to give up current ones. I always felt like, “if I don’t do this, who will?”. Now I know, that someone else will. Unless it is something that truly makes me happy, I do not need to carry this responsibility. Life is too short and I value my health too much.

Prevention is key in many chronic diseases. There are risk factors in our genes, but they are not the only risk factors. Many risk factors can be controlled by us. Take your health into your own hands! Be empowered!

In 2 weeks, I will address treatments and recovery from strokes.

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