Stroke Prevention

June is stroke month.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death. That means we should remind ourselves about the prevention and early recognition of stroke symptoms. Early recognition of stroke symptoms can lead to early treatment with clot busting drugs. That means you improve your chances of recovery from stroke’s disabling symptoms.

Heart and Stroke Foundation has been running ads which clearly tell the public “how to recognize the signs of stroke when you see them.” You should immediately call an ambulance if you recognize the following signs:
-weakness – sudden loss of strength or sudden numbness in the face, arm or leg, even if temporary
-trouble speaking – sudden difficulty speaking or understanding or sudden confusion, even if temporary
-vision problems – sudden trouble with vision, even if temporary
-headache – sudden severe and unusual headache
-dizziness – sudden loss of balance, especially with any of the above signs

Each year in Canada stroke occurs in 50,000 people and account for seven per cent of all deaths. About five per cent of men and women over the age of 65 have been affected by stroke. Strokes kill 45 per cent more women than men in Canada, says a report from the Heart and Stroke Foundation. One of the reasons is that women live longer than man. Patients with stroke require a lot of care and health care resources.

A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked, either by blood clots or narrowed blood vessels, or when there is bleeding in the brain.

Can we prevent stroke?

Chronic conditions like atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), atrial fibrillation (irregular heart rhythm), hypertension, high cholesterol levels and diabetes can lead to stroke if not appropriately managed.

For example, about 26 per cent of Canadian adult men and 18 per cent of women have hypertension. But 40 per cent of such people are unaware they have hypertension. This is not good.

Some risk factors like age, gender and genetic factors cannot be changed. Physical inactivity, smoking and heavy use of alcohol increases the risk of stroke. These risk factors can be changed if a person so desires.

According to an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, several agents can be used to manage underlying disease to prevent stroke:
-antiplatelet agents like aspirin
-blood thinners like Coumadin
-control of high blood pressure with thiazides and ACE inhibitors
-reducing the cholesterol level with statin
-if indicated, surgery for correction of narrowing of carotid artery in the neck

These measures should be combined with increased physical activity, no smoking and reduction in the amount of alcohol consumed. So stroke can be prevented if we take control of our health and modify the risk factors.

In an acute situation, if you recognize the signs of stroke then call an ambulance. Timely administration of aspirin and clot busting drugs can significantly modify the outcome of stroke.

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