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May 15, 2013

Stroke remains fourth leading cause of death                    

COLUMBIA, Tenn. – Stroke remains the fourth leading cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States according to the American Stroke Association (ASA). In 2012, the ASA estimated that a stroke occurs on an average of every 40 seconds and claims more than 130,000 lives each year. The good news is that the ASA estimates that 80 percent of strokes are preventable.

A stroke can be caused either by a blood clot obstructing the flow of blood to the brain or by a blood vessel rupturing and preventing blood flow to the brain. When that happens, part of the brain begins to die from the lack of blood and oxygen. The effects will vary according to where the problem occurs and how much area of the brain has been affected.

Indications of a stroke usually develop suddenly and include:

  • Numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Confusion or trouble speaking
  • Vision problems in one or both eyes
  • Loss of balance, trouble walking and dizziness
  • Sudden onset of a severe headache, unlike any previous headache

“If you see someone showing signs of a stroke, it’s important that you call 911 immediately,” said Maury Regional Medical Center Emergency Department Medical Director Dr. Mark McLean. “In some cases, the long-term effects of a stroke can be minimized by the timely administering of a clot-busting medication. But for the medication to have the best chance of working, the patient must get to the ER as soon as possible after the symptoms start.”

The chances of having a stroke increase with age and are more common among those with a family history of the disease and among African-Americans. Anyone with a prior history of stroke or heart attack is also at increased risk.

“Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is the leading cause of stroke and the most important controllable risk factor. To help prevent stroke, monitor your blood pressure and maintain regular follow- up appointments with your primary care provider,” said Dr. McLean. “The best prevention is through healthy living by not smoking, eating a healthy diet, regular exercise and keeping your cholesterol levels and blood pressure within a healthy range.”

Here are some suggestions to help you lower your risk for stroke:

Stop smoking

Smoking doubles the risk of stroke. It damages blood vessel walls, speeds up artery clogging, raises blood pressure and makes the heart work harder.

Control alcohol use 

Alcohol use has been linked to stroke in many studies. Most doctors recommend not drinking or drinking only in moderation - no more than two drinks each day.

Know cholesterol levels  

Cholesterol is a fatty substance in blood that is made by the body. It also comes in food. High cholesterol levels can clog arteries and cause a stroke. See a doctor if your total cholesterol level is more than 200.

Control diabetes

Many people with diabetes have health problems that are also stroke risk factors. A doctor and dietician can help manage diabetes Many people with diabetes have health problems that are also stroke risk factors. A doctor and dietician can help manage diabetes.

Manage exercise/diet 

Excess weight strains the circulatory system. Exercise five times a week. Maintain a diet low in calories, salt, saturated and trans fats and cholesterol. Eat five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

Treat circulation problems  

Fatty deposits can block arteries carrying blood to the brain and lead to a stroke. Other problems such as sickle cell disease or severe anemia should be treated.

Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)

A TIA is a temporary episode of stroke-like symptoms that can last a few minutes to 24 hours but usually causes no permanent damage or disability. TIA and stroke symptoms are the same. Recognizing and treating a TIA can reduce stroke risk. Up to 40 percent of people who experience a TIA may have a stroke.

For more information about stroke and stroke prevention, visit www.strokeassociation.org.