We lost a family member to a stroke this past weekend. Unfortunately it has not been the first time we have been affected by strokes. Strokes are the third leading cause of death in the United States, as well as the the leading cause of serious, long-term disability. Looking back, the risk factors were all there, many of them preventable.
A stroke, which is basically an attack on the brain, occurs when part of the brain is deprived of oxygen and nutrients because of an interruption in blood flow. The result is death of brain cells. There are two primary types of strokes. An ischemic stroke occurs when the flow of blood to the brain is blocked – for example, by a piece of atherosclerotic plaque, a blood clot or a spasm in an artery. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel bursts, causing blood loss and swelling. Both can result in a sudden loss of neurological function that may increase over 24 to 48 hours.
Signs and symptoms of a stroke may include:
• Clumsiness or paralysis of limbs, usually one -ided
• Difficulty speaking, understanding, remembering, writing or thinking clearly
• Inability to carry out normal daily tasks
• Loss of hearing or vision
• Personality changes
• Difficulty swallowing
• In severe cases, the inability to breathe on one’s own.
Between 20-25% of people who experience a stroke will die from it. About 40% will recover well enough to manage daily tasks.
The risk factors for stroke are similar to those for heart disease and cancer. These include age, high blood pressure, smoking, heart disease, diabetes, alcohol abuse, obesity, and family history of stroke.
Aside from age and family history, the above risk factors can be prevented. Here are some things to do to prevent a stroke.
Stop smoking: The risk of ischemic stroke in current smokers is about double that of nonsmokers after adjustment for other risk factors.
Eat healthy food: Eat a healthy diet, high in fiber, including whole grains and organically grown fruits and vegetables. This can help you lose weight, lower blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides. If you are diabetic, keep your blood sugar low. Oat bran and apples are particularly good for lowering cholesterol. Garlic is extremely beneficial for the heart and should be used regularly. Regular consumption of fish can greatly reduce the risk of heart disease. Avoid sugar, processed foods and alcohol.
Exercise: Daily aerobic exercise will decrease blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, help you lose weight, reduce tension and stress, lift depression, and increase oxygen flow to the brain and heart. Brisk walking is a good basic exercise, suitable for most people. If you cannot do this, find an exercise that you love. Try swimming, rowing, dancing… but be active.
Reduce stress: Practicing yoga or some sort of meditation has been found to help reduce stress in our daily lives. Others ways to reduce stress are physical exercise, prayer, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, counseling, art therapy and music. Choose whatever appeals to you.
Supplement: Antioxidants can protect against free-radical damage. Fish oil (omega-3) improves blood flow and decreases inflammation, and B-complex vitamins can help lower homocysteine, a risk factor for stroke. Please consult with a health expert before embarking on a supplement regime.
Photo from here, with thanks.