This post was written in collaboration with Maureen Sullivan, RN.
Strokes are the 4th leading cause of death in the US
A stroke is potentially a life threatening emergency, and must be treated as such. A stroke affects the arteries within the brain. According to the National Stroke Association, stroke is the fourth leading cause of death and the leading cause of disability in the United States. Each year, approximately 795,000 people suffer a stroke. About 600,000 of these are first attacks, and 185,000 are recurrent attacks. On average, someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds.
This means that if by the time you finished reading that sentence, one or maybe even two people experienced a stroke.
And a stroke isn’t just something that only “unhealthy” people get. Everyone is susceptible to a stroke. Maybe first explaining what the definition of a stroke can help put that in perspective.
What is a stroke?
A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked (by narrowing or a clot formation) or ruptures. When this happens, the brain is deprived of its necessary blood flow, and begins to die.
In other words, if blood is blocked in any way from reaching the brain tissue that needs it, the brain tissue becomes damaged and functionality may never be regained.
There are two main types of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic. Ischemic strokes are caused by a clot obstructing blood flow to the brain. About 87 percent of all strokes are ischemic. Hemorrhagic strokes occur when a blood vessel in the brain breaks, leaking blood into the brain.
Regardless of whether it’s ischemic or hemorrhagic, a stroke is a stroke. Strokes may cause brain tissue to die, and with lost brain tissue is also lost physiological and psychological functions. Remember that the brain is the control center of the entire body, and if the part of the brain that controls a specific function is damaged or gone—that function no longer is there or performs as well.
This is why strokes are so deadly. A perfectly healthy person can rapidly lose everything—their health, their body movements, their memories—in less than a minute because of a stroke.
Symptoms of a stroke
Be on the lookout for symptoms of stroke. Symptoms of stroke occur suddenly and are often painless. They include the following:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
It is important to note the time of onset of these symptoms, and to seek emergency care.
Remember, in a stroke, every second counts.
Immediately call 9-1-1 or the local emergency medical services (EMS) number so they can transport you to the nearest hospital. Emergency medical intervention, for certain types of strokes, may include the clot busting drug called tissue plasminogen activator (t-PA). This medication may be given if the onset of stroke symptoms is less than three hours; thus, seeking immediate emergency care is paramount.
Reduce your risk of stroke by reducing your blood pressure
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, damages arteries so they burst (hemorrhagic stroke) or clog (ischemic stroke) more easily. Managing your high blood pressure is the most important thing you can do to lessen your risk for stroke. Track your blood pressure daily and watch out for high risk trends, to literally save your life.
Other medical risk factors for stroke include: previous stroke, or TIA, high cholesterol, heart disease, atrial fibrillation and carotid artery disease. These risk factors can be controlled and managed with the help of a healthcare professional.
Of course, just as with blood pressure, you should work to manage your own health as well. We encourage you to take charge of your own lifestyle by using your iPhone, Apple Watch or Android device to track and understand your health risk levels including blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose (diabetes). (iOS, Android)
Simple changes in your diet and other lifestyle changes (smoking reduction, weight loss, increasing activity, and controlling your blood pressure) can greatly help reduce your risk of stroke.
Lifestyle changes might seem overwhelming at first but start simple. Drink one less soda each day. Stand up during TV commercials. Pet your dog. Eat dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate. Don’t try to do it all at once. Simple baby steps will translate into permanent habits more readily than complex giant steps. Regardless of where you decide to begin, the most important thing is to measure and record the clearest indicators of your heart health—your blood pressure.
Reducing Your Risk of Stroke Starts With Your iPhone or Apple Watch
Reducing your risk for stroke starts with at home blood pressure recording and lab results tracking with Hello Heart, your free personal heart health care app (iOS, Android). Hello Heart serves as a great companion for people who are concerned about their health, but don’t want to be overwhelmed by the medical jargon, the cryptic lab results and undecipherable codes that are often used to quantify our health. Clear, simple and actionable language with motivational rewards makes tracking your blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes simple and even fun.
Heart Health is not one size fits all
Heart Health is not “one size fits all.” Hello Heart helps you to live health consciously without being health dictated. Go claim the free Hello Heart App so that you can claim back your life!
About the Guest Author Maureen Sullivan
Maureen Sullivan is a RN, diabetic educator and humorist. ( and former stroke program manager). She hosts a weekly radio show “The Health and Humor Show“, injecting humor into the healthcare arena. Laughter is the best medicine. Her goal is to both entertain and educate on a variety of health care topics.