Stroke is Deadly, but Preventable

By Dr. Gerard Muraida

A stroke in medical terms is referred to as a cerebrovascular accident. This is caused by a lack of blood flow to the brain, resulting in decreased oxygen and cell death. Symptoms vary, depending on which part of the brain is affected.

Lack of blood flow to the brain may occur either by a blockage of an artery supplying the brain or by an arterial bleed. These two types of strokes are referred to as ischemic (blockage) and hemorrhagic (bleeding) respectively. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S., with a fatal stroke occurring every three minutes, according to the 2024 statistical update by the American Stroke Association (ASA).

As May is National Stroke Awareness Month, there’s no better time than to learn some stroke basics that could save a life – maybe even your own. Indeed, not all the news about stroke is morbid. Stroke prevention programs across the country are continuing to improve survival. The ASA has been instrumental in decreasing the time from symptom onset to treatment initiation via a program called Door to Needle. New Mexico has performed very well, earning a place on the Target: Stroke Honor Roll.

Colloquially, the medical community uses the term “mini-stroke” to refer to a condition known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA). This is a process where diminished blood flow to the brain for a short period of time produces stroke-like symptoms but resolves before permanent damage results.

Identifying Stroke Symptoms

Stroke symptoms are often characterized by a sudden inability to do some kind of typical activity. One way to recognize some of the key symptoms is the acronym “BE FAST”:

  • Balance – Is there a sudden loss of balance?
  • Eyes – Is there a sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes?
  • Face – Does the person’s face look uneven?
  • Arms – Is there a sudden weakness in either arm?
  • Speech – Does their speech sound strange?
  • Time = Brain cells. During a stroke, brain cells are at risk from the very beginning.

Recognizing these “BE FAST” symptoms and getting treatment quickly can minimize damage to the brain and lessen post-stroke complications. If you see someone with these symptoms, call 911 immediately for the best possible outcome.

Preventing Stroke

There are several things a person can do to minimize the risk of having a stroke:

  • Maintain optimal blood pressure, at or below 140/90. The Mayo Clinic Minute last year identified blood pressure as primary to controlling and reducing stroke risk. Keep your BP.
  • Maintain an ideal body weight. Obesity, hypertension, and diabetes have been associated with an increased risk of stroke, according to the AHA.
  • Diet and exercise go hand-in-hand to reduce stroke risk. Parking a few extra spaces away from your destination is a great starting point to increase the number of steps you take in a day.
  • Manage cholesterol levels via diet and medications, if needed.
  • If you smoke, stop. Smoking accelerates clot formation in arteries throughout your body. Ask your primary care physician to help with smoking cessation techniques.
  • Treatment of atrial fibrillation (an irregular heart rhythm) has been shown to reduce the risk of stroke.

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