Striking out the Risk of Stroke

My friend Sonja, a shy Norwegian beauty with soft golden
ringlets and shy blue eyes, carried a picture in her wallet. In the
tattered square, a viewer glimpsed her as a child of 6 or 7, seated
on a piano bench next to a man who is, unmistakably, her
father.
My friend Sonja, a shy Norwegian beauty with soft golden ringlets and shy blue eyes, carried a picture in her wallet. In the tattered square, a viewer glimpsed her as a child of 6 or 7, seated on a piano bench next to a man who is, unmistakably, her father.

Sometimes, when she was sad or lonely or didn’t know what to do, Sonja would take out that picture and look at it, the last scrap of her father’s life that she could claim.

When Sonja was eight, he collapsed and died of a stroke at the age of 38.

Each year, an estimated 750,000 Americans – including 4,500 living in Santa Clara County – are hospitalized for stroke, according to the Stanford Stroke Center.

But while the event is the No. 1 cause of adult disability and the nation’s third largest killer, according to the SSC and the public education foundation Stroke Awareness Foundation, few are educated about stroke’s warning signs.

To a bystander, the person experiencing this life-altering event may simply appear confused, but, as I reported some months ago in this column, confusion is not always what it seems.

If you suddenly cannot smile, raise your arms or repeat a simple sentence, you may be having a stroke.

The SAF recommends calling 911 and to ask to be transported to a certified stroke center if you or someone you know is experiencing:

n numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side

n severe headache

n dizziness, loss of balance or coordination

n difficulty speaking, understanding speech, seeing or walking.

Usually brought on by a blockage in the flow of blood to the brain, the early symptoms of stroke are frequently ignored, but signs of the event shouldn’t be taken lightly. Brain cells deprived of oxygen begin to die within minutes, and, left untreated, can lead to permanent injuries, including the loss of motor function or speech.

Fortunately, today’s hospitals have an expanded number of tools available to fight stroke in its early stages, including clot-busting drugs aimed at restoring blood flow. But to reduce your risk, start early.

Stroke is a cardiac event, much like a heart attack, so keeping your cardiovascular system in peak condition by exercising regularly is a good way to put off stroke, according to the SSC. And, while you can’t change other risk factors like age, sex, race or family history, you can do something about other behaviors or medical conditions that can contribute to stroke.

First, quit smoking. A smoker’s risk of stroke is four times as great as a non-smoker’s, according to the SAF, and stroke risk is highest for female smokers using birth control. If you have high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol or heart disease, work with your doctor to get your condition under control. Also, nix extra pounds and curb stress or excessive alcohol intake.

If you would like to know more about stroke and what you can FFdo to prevent it, visit www.strokecenter.stanford.edu or www.fightstroke.com.

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