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Being Smart About Strokes

By Alan Williams, PT, OTR/L, ATC, CSCS

Bruce was stressed. His deadline was only hours away, and the project still wasn’t completed. He took a deep breath and tried to focus, but suddenly severe pain shot through his head. Great, Bruce thought, Another migraine. He took a headache pill and kept working, but minutes later, his vision went blurry. He tried to raise his hands to rub his eyes, but his left arm felt awkward, like he couldn’t control it. Just then, Gary from the next office walked in with a stack of papers. “Hey Bruce, if you get a chance…” Gary’s voice trailed off. “Are you okay? Half your face looks droopy!” Bruce tried to explain, but he couldn’t find the words. His head was muddled. With great effort, he managed to mumble, “Stroke.”

The third leading cause of death in the U.S., a stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is drastically reduced or cut off completely, resulting in impaired brain function and brain cell death. This is due to a clot or other blockage of the blood vessel (called an ischemic stroke) or because a blood vessel breaks, leaking blood into the skull (called a hemorrhagic stroke). Because of their commonalities with heart attacks, strokes are sometimes called “brain attacks.”

According to the National Stroke Association, approximately 795,000 strokes will occur this year – the victims will be both male and female, old and young (sometimes even children and babies), and of all races. Of those 795,000, approximately 18% will result in death. The remaining number will suffer consequences ranging from mild to severe, including pain, loss of coordination or paralysis, impaired brain function, difficulty speaking, and difficulty swallowing.

On the brighter side, up to 80% of strokes are preventable, according to the National Stroke Association. Given the repercussions of having a stroke, it makes sense to do all you can to prevent yourself from having one in the first place. Some risk factors (such as being over age 55 or having a family history of stroke and/or heart attack) you can’t change, but most others can be lowered or eliminated by lifestyle adjustments. Risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity can be treated with exercise, diet, and medication as prescribed by your doctor. Drink only in moderation. If you use birth control pills, follow all directions and receive regular checks from your doctor. Engage in regular stress-reducing techniques, and as for smoking and illegal drug use – just don’t do it.

If you or someone you know has had a stroke, it is essential that they receive rehabilitative care right away. The “golden window” for restoring lost brain function is highest in the days and weeks immediately following the stroke and continues primarily for the first six months afterwards. During this time frame, your loved one may need to relearn simple functions. Depending on the severity of their stroke, they may have to relearn how to walk, talk, swallow, speak, write, brush their teeth, tie their shoes, dial the phone, and a myriad of other everyday activities that we tend to take for granted. Seek out a qualified physical therapist and/or occupational therapist and begin treatment right away.

How quickly a person receives emergency medical care after experiencing a stroke will greatly affect both its severity and their recovery afterwards. If you suspect someone is having a stroke, use the F.A.S.T. test:

1) Face – Ask them to smile. Does part of their face droop?
2) Arms – Ask them to raise both arms. Does one arm wander?
3) Speech – Are their words slurred? Can they repeat a simple sentence?
4) Time – Time is of the essence. Call 911 immediately if the person exhibits any of the above symptoms.

We don’t have to live in fear of strokes. Be stroke smart by reducing your risks, recognizing the symptoms, and receiving rehabilitative care right away if a stroke occurs.

For more information on post-stroke rehabilitation or about exercising to reduce stroke risk, call 463-0022 today!

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