It’s the third leading cause of death and the first cause of adult disability in this country, yet 80 percent of strokes are preventable, according to the National Stroke Association.  May is American Stroke Month.

Much like a heart attack, strokes occur when vessels become blocked by a buildup of scar tissue and cholesterol.  When combined with a clot, blood is prevented from flowing through the artery, causing the most common type of stroke known as ischemic.  If that artery remains blocked for more than a few minutes, the brain cells cease making energy and eventually, stop working altogether.
Stroke symptoms range from facial drooping and weakness on one side of the body to loss of vision or loss of ability to speak or swallow.  Time is of the essence when a stroke is suspected to have occurred, according to Mark Schultz, M.D. and neurologist at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, HMNMH.

“The American Stroke Association recommendation is that anyone that has symptoms of stroke that goes on longer than five minutes should immediately go to the emergency room for evaluation,” Schultz said.

Vivian Rebel, RN and director of emergency services at HMNMH concurred.  “You want to react as soon as possible to prevent further damage,” Rebel said.  Once admitted to the emergency room, a work-up is done, often leading to a CAT Scan and a consultation with the appropriate specialist based on the type of stroke sustained.

A hemorrhagic stroke occurs in about 10 percent of patients when a diseased blood vessel within the brain bursts, allowing blood to leak inside the brain. Surrounding brain cells are damaged due to a sudden increase in pressure.  Depending on the level of blood, the sudden build-up in pressure can lead to unconsciousness or death.

Underlying risk factors for ischemic stroke include high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking.  These are the often preventable causes that one can circumvent with tobacco cessation, monitoring cholesterol and blood pressure, eating appropriately and exercising regularly.
“Hypertension is a risk factor, too, so regular evaluation by your primary physician and control of blood pressure can reduce risk,” Schultz said.

Family history also plays a role as does age.

“Typically, it is unusual to see strokes in people younger than 60 or 65 years of age.  For those 60 and younger who have had close relatives who have suffered a stroke, then that increases the risk,” Schultz said.

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