What you need to know about preventing a stroke

Dr. Brian deGuzman

Dr. Brian deGuzman

Stroke is the second most frequent cause of death worldwide and the fifth leading cause of death in America today.

It’s also a major cause of severe, long-term disability. Advanced age is one of the largest risk factors for stroke with 95 percent of strokes occur in people age 45 and older, and two-thirds of strokes occurring in those over the age of 65.

Further men, African Americans and people with diabetes or heart disease are the most at risk for stroke. Today in the United States there are tens of millions of stroke survivors.

To protect yourself and your loved ones from the serious effects of stroke, you should:

  • Learn about and identify risk factors.
  • Talk to your doctor about your risk and how to reduce it.
  • Learn the warning signs of stroke and actions to take if one occurs.
  • Recognize and respond quickly to a stroke if one strikes.

Uncontrolled high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, alcohol, heart disease, obesity and inactivity all put you at a higher risk for stroke.

Knowing the signs of stroke is important.  If you act fast and get to a hospital immediately, you can reduce the effects of a stroke or save yours or someone else’s life!  You and your family should learn the warning signs of stroke that are listed below. Victims of stroke may have some or all of them:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

F.A.S.T. is an easy way to remember how to recognize a stroke and what to do. Spot a stroke FAST.  Face drooping,  Arm weakness,  Speech Difficulty, Time to act immediately and call 9-1-1.

What causes a stroke?

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that supplies part of the brain gets blocked (ischemic stroke) or bursts (hemorrhagic stroke).  The brain then loses its blood supply, depriving it of oxygen, causing the cells to malfunction and in some cases to die.  This results in loss of function of the part of the body being controlled by the part of the brain injured.  TIAs, or transient ischemic attacks, are “warning or mini strokes” that can happen before a major stroke.  They happen when the blockage is only partial or temporary causing a short, and importantly, reversible insult to the brain. The signs and symptoms of a TIA are like a stroke, but they usually last only a few minutes. If you have any of these get to a hospital right away!

What should you do if you suspect a stroke?

Call 9-1-1 or the emergency response number in your area (fire department or ambulance) immediately. It’s important to get to a hospital right away, “Time is Brain”!  Try to note the time when the first symptoms appeared, this will help doctors optimize chances of recovery.  It’s very important to take immediate action. If given within 3 hours from the start of symptoms, clot-dissolving medications called thrombolytics or if surgical removal called thrombectomy is performed within 3 hours, chances of survival are improved and the negative effects are reduced.

How can one help prevent stroke?

You can help prevent a stroke if you do these things:

  • Don’t smoke and avoid second-hand smoke.
  • Treat high blood pressure, diabetes and atrial fibrillation if you have it.
  • Eat a healthy diet that is low in saturated fat, trans fat, added sugars and salt.
  • Be physically active.
  • Reach and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Control your blood sugar if you have diabetes.
  • Follow your doctor’s orders for taking medicine.
  • Get regular medical check-ups.

For more information about heart health visit www.heart.org.

About the authors:

Dr. Brian J. deGuzman received his M.D. from Georgetown University School of Medicine, his general surgical training at the University of Connecticut/Hartford Hospital, was a Research Fellow at Harvard Medical School’s Cardiac Surgery Research Laboratory, and received his cardiothoracic surgical training at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital.

He is married to Keri deGuzman, a nursing graduate from Northeastern University and practiced as a Pediatric Cardiac ICU nurse at Boston Children’s Hospital, Cleveland Clinic, San Diego Children’s Hospital, and here at St. Joseph’s Hospital. They reside in Paradise Valley with their 4 children. Kari DeGuzman serves on the 2016 Heart Ball Committee.  The 2016 Heart Ball will be held on November 19, 2016 at The Phoenician Resort and Spa.  Tickets and sponsorships are available at phoenixheartball.heart.org or call Meredith at 602-414-5332.

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