What Contributes to Risk of Stroke?
Stroke can occur without warning in anyone, including children. The following are the primary risk factors for stroke.
- Alcohol and other substance abuse, e.g., cocaine, methamphetamine
- Atherosclerosis or other cardiovascular diseases.
- Chronically high cholesterol
- Long-term use of some medications, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID), including ibuprofen and naproxen
- Poor diet
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Sickle cell disease
- Smoking cigarettes
- Stress and depression
- Age and sex – the risk of stroke increases with age. In people under the age of 60, men are more likely than women to suffer stroke but women are more likely to die as a result
- Race/ethnicity – in North America, African- and Native Americans are more likely to have strokes than other ethnic groups
12 Symptoms of a Stroke
Stroke symptoms depend on the part of the brain affected by the shutdown of blood supply. Knowing the signs of a stroke can mean the difference between getting medical attention quick enough to prevent severe damage and a life of disability.
1. Pain on One Side of the Face
Sudden and inexplicable pain on one side of the face, arm, leg, or chest isn’t typical but it’s not uncommon. Women are more likely to experience atypical stroke symptoms, so better to be safe than sorry.
2. Blurry Vision
Sudden difficulty in seeing clearly, such as blurred or double vision, inability to focus your eye(s), or other changes in sight (in one or both eyes) can signal a stroke.
3. Difficulty Breathing or Swallowing
Women can experience different symptoms of a stroke than men. Having difficulty breathing or swallowing are two of these. These other signs of stroke are more common in women: fainting, irritation, hallucination, nausea or vomiting, sudden pain, seizures, hiccups.
Delayed onset hand tremors are a relatively uncommon but confirmed symptom of cerebral infarction—obstruction of blood supply to the brain.
5. Loss of Balance
Sudden dizziness, lack of coordination, or loss of balance are common stroke symptoms and should be taken seriously.
6. Difficult to Walk
Sudden numbness or tingling anywhere in the body (“pins and needles”) or instability and trouble with normal walking can be signs of a stroke.
7. Facial Paralysis
This is probably the best-known symptom of stroke. Sudden numbness/weakness/paralysis of one side of the face, arm, or leg can tell you a stroke is in progress.
“Try to raise both your arms over your head at the same time. If one arm begins to fall, you may be having a stroke. Similarly, one side of your mouth may droop when you try to smile,” warns the Mayo Clinic.
A normal headache feels like a dull squeeze of the head and occurs with no other symptoms of a stroke. A migraine is a sharp, painful throbbing that is usually preceded by other symptoms. A sudden, sharp, monstrous pain in the head—especially in younger people—can be a sign of stroke. Women are more likely to experience a stroke headache than men, especially those who regularly get migraines.
If you’re in the middle of doing something and become suddenly confused, disoriented, or unable to understand and think straight, it could be a sign of stroke.
Dizziness or imbalance alone isn’t necessarily a sign of a stroke; dizziness and imbalance accompanied by vertigo often are symptoms of a brainstem stroke. Vertigo is the sensation of swaying or spinning without moving or that objects in the environment are moving when they’re not. Vertigo alone is often a simple matter of an imbalance in the inner ear and can be cured with the Epley Maneuver or another physical adjustment. It’s the triumvirate that is of concern for stroke.
When it comes to brain stem stroke, the prognosis is very good:
“Dramatic recovery from a brain stem stroke is possible. Because brain stem strokes do not usually affect language ability, the patient is able to participate more fully in rehabilitation therapy. Most deficits are motor-related, not cognitive. Double vision and vertigo commonly resolve after several weeks of recovery in mild to moderate brain stem strokes,” writes the American Stroke Association.
11. Trouble Speaking
The area of the brain that is most responsible for speech is often affected by stroke. Inability to speak, slurred speech, or being unable to understand speech are common when suffering a stroke.
Women are more likely than men to feel sudden extreme fatigue, weakness, confusion, and changes in mental state during a stroke.
Up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented.
To drastically reduce your risk of stroke, consider these lifestyle choices :
- Keep blood pressure manageable. Maintain blood pressure less than 120/80.
- Maintain a healthy weight. A Body Mass Index of 25 or less is desirable. The National Institutes of Health provide an online calculator for your BMI: click here to access.
- Exercise regularly, at a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate intensity at least 5 days a week.
- Limit alcohol to no more than one glass per day.
- Moderate blood sugar levels. If you have diabetes, stay on top of it. The risk of stroke is significantly higher for individuals with diabetes.
- Stop smoking cigarettes.