Identifying risk factors is key to preventing stroke

The leading cause of serious long-term disability and fifth leading cause of death, stroke affects approximately 795,000 people each year in the United States. Sometimes referred to as a "heart attack of the brain," strokes are caused when a blood vessel bursts or is blocked. This leads to a lack of blood supply and deprivation of oxygen, rapidly killing brain cells. Although strokes are serious, 80 percent are preventable. Early detection and treatment are key to recovery.

McLaren Homecare Group is committed to providing patients with education about risk factors and how to prevent the onset of a stroke. A common misconception about stroke is that it only affects the elderly, but this is untrue; stroke can affect anyone at any age, so it is important to be able to identify potential risk factors.
blood test for measuring cholesterol and insulin
"There are some preventative measures that can be taken to prevent the onset of a stroke. One way is to understand the signs and symptoms of a stroke. Also, monitor cholesterol, stay active, take proper medications and have regular doctor visits. Blood pressure is also a big one; it is known as the silent killer when left unmanaged," explains Jeff Alaska, MHSA, MPT, PT, lead therapist at McLaren Homecare Sterling Heights.

Risk factors for stroke include race, age and genetics, and although these risk factors cannot be controlled, many risk factors can. Additional ways to prevent stroke are to quit smoking, limit alcohol intake, maintain a healthy and balanced diet, and maintain a healthy weight. In addition to healthy lifestyle choices, it is also critical to treat the underlying causes of stroke, including atrial fibrillation, diabetes and transient ischemic attacks.

Atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib, is the most common type of irregular heartbeat and increases the risk for stroke by approximately five times. Hearts affected by AFib do not pump blood effectively-the heart quivers instead of properly contracting to pump blood. Thus, the heart works much harder than it should, even when the patient is resting. Patients who take medication for AFib have a significantly smaller risk for stroke than those who do not.

Diabetes also increases the risk of stroke; people with diabetes are one and a half times more likely to have a stroke. Risk of stroke is increased in those with diabetes because when the blood has too much glucose (sugar), it can lead to fatty deposits in the blood vessels. These deposits then narrow blood vessels and blood blockage can occur; blood flow to the brain stops, causing a stroke. Those with diabetes can prevent stroke through diet, exercise, maintaining healthy blood glucose levels and taking medication if necessary.

Transient ischemic attacks, also known as TIAs or "mini strokes," are also major indicators of strokes. Mini strokes are a temporary blockage of blood flow. It does not cause any permanent damage, but they are typically indicators of a stroke to occur; approximately one third of people who experience a TIA have a larger stroke within a year. It is important to understand the signs of TIAs and seek medical help immediately.

A reliable way to spot the signs of stroke is through the acronym "FAST," which stands for "Face drooping" + "Arm weakness" + "Speech difficulty" = "Time to call 911". If you are unsure if you or a loved one are having a stroke, call 911 anyway. Ambulances are equipped to treat stroke patients, and when having a stroke, seconds are crucial.

For more information about the risk of stroke, speak with your primary care physician. To learn more about McLaren Homecare Group's Stroke Care program and rehabilitation, call (866) 323-5974.