Strokes are the third leading cause of death in the United States. The heart and brain are largely reliant on each other to maintain functionality of the human body. The brain controls most of the body’s range of capabilities and nerve signaling. Your brain serves many purposes, and a stroke can put those key functions at risk. Movement, communication, memory, emotional activity and physical capabilities can be affected when the brain is not working at full potential.
How Does a Stroke Differ From a Heart Attack?
A heart attack and a stroke often seem similar. Both result from a lack of blood flow and oxygenated blood, though heart attacks target the heart while strokes attack the brain. When blood flow to the heart is blocked, usually because of a blood clot, it can lead to a heart attack. A stroke can cause brain tissue to decay and may result in long-term disability or death.
What Are the Main Causes of a Stroke?
The primary cause of a stroke can be anything that leads to a blocked blood supply or a burst blood vessel, cutting off the oxygen flow to the brain. Numerous risk factors for a stroke, such as high blood pressure and obesity, can be treated or medically managed. However, as with many terminal conditions, some risk factors are genetic or are more difficult to address.
Your lifestyle has a significant influence on your health. Unhealthy choices can lead to chronic illnesses with long-term consequences. Nearly everything that goes into your body has the potential to affect your physical and emotional well-being. For example, highly processed fast food may make you feel lethargic and groggy, while a plant-based diet can support a healthy immune system.
Some lifestyle risk factors for a stroke are:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Lack of exercise
- Excessive alcohol or drug use
Uncontrollable risk factors include:
- Age: Your chances of suffering a stroke double every decade after age 55.
- Race: Strokes affect Black and nonwhite Hispanic Americans more often than white Americans.
- Gender: Though strokes occur more often in men, women are more likely to suffer one later in life, putting them at higher danger of nonrecovery.
- Family history: Some stroke cases are more likely to occur within families that already carry genetic disorders.
Even if you’re taking care of your body and don’t have any genetic risk factors, you can still be susceptible to a stroke due to:
- Geography: Strokes occur more often in the southeastern U.S. than in the rest of the country, perhaps due to elements of the regional culture such as smoking practices and diet.
- Climate: Extreme temperatures increase the likelihood of a stroke.
- Social and economic circumstances: Some evidence suggests that strokes are more prevalent in low-income communities.
How Can You Tell When Someone Is Having a Stroke?
An emergency can happen in the blink of an eye. Full recovery from a stroke is possible when treatment is sought immediately. Just remember to get help FAST.
- F: One of the first warning signs is a drooping face or uneven smile.
- A: One arm may be weak, numb or drifting downward.
- S: The person’s speech may be slurred. He or she might not be able to form a complete sentence at all.
- T: If you witness any of the above symptoms, it may be time to call for help. Document what time the symptoms first appeared.
How Is a Stroke Treated?
In order to treat a stroke, doctors must determine the causes of the symptoms through a CT scan or other test. Stroke tests range from simple physical exams and blood analysis to more complex procedures such as MRI scans, carotid ultrasounds, cerebral angiograms or echocardiograms. About 25% of stroke survivors suffer a second stroke, making immediate treatment crucial.
Some steps to help stroke victims recover include monitoring medications, ensuring a healthy diet, being on the lookout for dizziness or imbalance, seeking support and therapy, and keeping the brain active. It’s important to remember that recovery from a traumatic brain injury takes time.
Stroke recovery can be a long-term process. Therefore, it’s vital to understand how the body is affected by a stroke. Consult the accompanying infographic for more information on brain recovery as well as stroke-prevention habits to incorporate into daily life.
Author bio: Renee Bibian is Vice President of Quality and Education for Family Home Health Services, a home health care agency in Florida. She has more than 20 years of experience in the health care industry and focuses on providing clinical, regulatory and quality oversight in a home health multisite environment.