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Stroke: A Brain Attack Needing Emergency Treatment


What’s the single most important thing you can do to lower your risk of stroke?
According to a recent American Stroke Association (ASA) Survey, only 15 percent of Americans know the answer: stop smoking.

The ASA also found that, for some reason, Americans don’t seem concerned about the dangers of stroke, even though it’s the third leading cause of death in this country, after heart disease and cancer. Only about 1 percent of survey respondents expressed worry about stroke.

In 1999, stroke caused 7,235 deaths in Ohio. Rates of death from stroke were 31 percent higher for African-Americans than for Caucasians.

Other stroke statistics:

  • Each year about 600,000 people have a stroke. About 500,000 of these are first attacks.
  • After age 55, your risk of stroke doubles for each decade.
  • In 1999, rates of death were 40 percent higher among African-Americans than Caucasians.

What happens during a stroke? 
Blood vessels and arteries carry oxygen and nutrients to the brain. A stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel or artery, or when a blood vessel breaks and interrupts blood flow to a certain area of the brain. The brain doesn’t get the oxygen it needs. Nerve cells in that area of the brain can’t function, and die within minutes.

When the brain cells die, they release a chemical that sets off a chain reaction called the “ischemic cascade.” Brain cells in an even larger area of the brain are affected, and without prompt medical treatment, these cells will also die over a period of hours, causing even more damage.

The death of the brain cells affects a person’s abilities such as speech, movement and memory, depending upon where the stroke damage occurs. A small stroke will probably cause only minimal damage, while a large stroke could have such serious consequences as complete paralysis on one side of the body.

Some people recover completely from strokes. Others may continue to have some weakness, paralysis, trouble with speech or memory problems. And some strokes are even fatal.

Immediate Emergency Treatment is Essential
People often have the misperception that there’s nothing that can be done about a stroke. This is far from the truth. Every minute counts. Immediate medical attention can make the difference between full recovery and permanent damage.

The key is to recognize the symptoms and call 911 right away.

What are the symptoms?
The most common stroke symptoms include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion or trouble speaking
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, or sudden dizziness
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause

Less common symptoms include:

  • Sudden nausea, fever and vomiting
  • Brief loss of consciousness or fainting, confusion, convulsions or coma

High Blood Pressure: A Major Cause
Smoking is a risk factor for stroke, and high blood pressure is another major cause. The America Dietetic Association recommends what’s called the DASH diet for people who want to lower their blood pressure. DASH stands for “dietary approaches to stop hypertension.” It emphasizes a food plan containing low-fat dairy products and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Components of the DASH diet include:

  • 2 to 3 servings of low-fat dairy products per day
  • 8 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day
  • Very moderate alcohol intake
  • Quitting smoking
  • Losing weight if necessary
  • Increased physical activity
  • Adequate calcium, magnesium, potassium
  • Lower fat intake

Increase Dietary Folate
A recent study has shown that people who consume at least 300 micrograms of folate per day have lower risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. See the article in this issue’s “Health News You Can Use” for more details.

The American Dietetic Association; The American Stroke Association; The National Stroke Association - June, 2002
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