Category: Brain

Stroke—You Have To Act FAST

Learning the signs and symptoms of a stroke and knowing how to act FAST can be life-saving. This month is marked by National Stroke Awareness month.

Here are the numbers:

  • About 800,000 people have a new or recurrent stroke every year.
  • That comes down to a person having a stroke about every 40 seconds.
  • It’s the 5th leading cause of death in the US.
  • Every 4 minutes someone dies from a stroke.
  • Up to 80% of strokes can be prevented.
  • It is the leading cause of adult disability in the US.

What is a stroke?

A stroke is either caused by a weakened vein leaking blood or a blocked artery. In either case, blood – and therefore oxygen – are not getting to the brain. These are called hemorrhagic and ischemic strokes, respectively. A temporary block of blood flow is called a transient ischemic attack (TIA) but is also referred to as a mini-stroke. That should not dampen the potential severity of what it is, attention should be sought immediately as a full stroke is likely to occur soon.

What is FAST?

FAST is a simple acronym for signs to be on the look-out for if you suspect a person is having a stroke.

Face drooping – Ask the person to smile and observe if the face droops.

Arms weak – See if the person is able to lift both arms overhead. Does an arm drift down or do they have trouble raising one?

Speech difficulty- Have the person repeat a person phrase. Pay attention to see if they slur or sound odd. They may have some confusion and trouble understanding you.

Time to call 9-1-1 (or your local emergency number) – Call 911 immediately if you observe any of these signs.

Other symptoms include:

  • trouble walking
  • a sudden and severe headache that may be joined with vomiting or dizziness
  • trouble seeing in one or both eyes

Why is it that so important?

In the case of many medical emergencies, stroke included, time is of the essence. Once a person starts having a stroke, it only takes a matter of minutes before brain damage can start to occur. Depending on where and the severity of the stroke, the type of damage can vary but often temporary or permanent disability can be expected. Two-thirds of survivors have some type of disability. These can include:

  • A difficulty with talking and swallowing: sometimes people can experience problems with swallowing, eating, and language due to trouble controlling muscles in your throat and nose. This can include difficulty communicating by talking, reading, and writing. Working with a therapist may help.
  • New sensations may occur in parts of the body affected by the stroke. This could be pain, tingling, or numbness. New sensitivities like to temperature changes could develop.
  • After a stroke, you may lose control of parts of your body or be paralyzed on one side like a side of your face or a leg. Physical therapy may help to return to activities like dressing, walking, and eating.
  • Some memory loss is common as well as changes to your cognitive ability like reasoning and judgment.
  • Emotional problems or depression could manifest after experiencing a stroke.
  • A person may experience behavior changes and their ability for self-care. They may become withdrawn and need help with chores, grooming, and dressing.

The success of treating these complications varies on the person and their situation.

Risk factors

Below are some risk factors that increase a person’s chance of having a stroke. While some of these are unavoidable, working on the ones that are changeable can help lower your risk level and possibly increase your quality of life.

  • Age – being over the age of 55 increases your risk of a stroke
  • Sex – men are more likely than women to have a stroke but women are older when they have one and are more likely to die of a stroke.
  • Race – African-Americans have a higher risk of stroke.
  • Hormones – estrogen-based therapies,  use of birth control, and the higher levels of estrogen during pregnancy and after childbirth increase the risk of stroke.
  • Physical inactivity
  • Heavy drinking
  • Obesity
  • Illicit drugs (cocaine, methamphetamines, etc)
  • Smoking and secondhand smoke
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular disease (abnormal heartbeat, heart failure, defects, and infection)
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • A family history of stroke, TIA, or heart attack

 

Implementing simple lifestyle changes can help lower your risk but if you are concerned about your risk, speak to a healthcare professional. If you or someone know has been affected by stroke, therapy may be able to help increase one’s quality of life. Remember, if you suspect someone is having a stroke, act FAST. 

Connecting Your Heart With Your Brain

heart health = brain healthYou know what they say, ‘what’s good for the heart is good for the brain’. Ok, it might not actually be a saying but maybe it should be. There is increasing information that steps to prevent heart disease may also prevent or slow dementia.

A rising public epidemic is railing brain health. In a person’s 20s, the brain naturally starts showing signs of cognitive decline and an estimated 3 out of 5 Americans will, in their lifetime, have some type of brain disease. However, the rate of Alzheimer’s, dementia, and stroke cases seems to be increasing and by 2030, these conditions are expected to exceed 1 trillion dollars.

There have been a number of studies that show that factors that affect heart and vessel health also affect the brain. Considering the brain uses 20% of the body’s oxygen and is surrounded by hundreds of vessels, it makes sense that poor cardiovascular health would, in turn, affect the brain’s health.

There are overlapping risk factors for both cardiovascular disease (CVD) and dementia. A few include type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and especially high blood pressure. These can have some effect on the vessels in the brain, cause the brain to shrink at a faster rate, cause changes to white matter, or lead to a stroke. In fact, according to  Ralph Sacco, M.D., chief of neurology at the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami and past president of the American Heart Association (also the first neurologist to be president of the AHA), high blood pressure is the “strongest predictor of brain health.” Some research indicates that the presence of these risk factors in middle age may have a greater effect on brain health than if they were in old age, however, specifics as to why are yet to be determined.

The American Heart Association has developed a system called Life’s Simple 7 as a means to keep a person’s health in check.

  • Blood Pressure Management
  • Cholesterol Control
  • Blood Sugar Regulation
  • Being Active
  • Eating Balanced
  • Weight Loss
  • Quit Smoking

Some studies have followed participants following this guideline for many years (30 years in some cases) to see how their health progressed. They awarded how well a person abided by each guideline with points between 0-2 and researchers found that every point missed seemed to correspond with about a year’s worth of age-related brain shrinkage. Similarly, other researchers found that with each increase of a point, the participant’s risk for heart failure was lowered by 23%. The research, however, does have some limitations and requires more data.

The earlier a person takes their health seriously the better, but starting now is better than never starting at all. Take steps and actions to take control of your health. Assess your health and speak with a physician if you have any questions or concerns. Simple actions can go a long way such as taking daily walks, incorporating more vegetables, or cutting out something high in sugar. A healthy heart can lead to a healthy brain, which could lead to a multitude of other positive life and body changes. Take charge of your health today!