May is Stroke Awareness Month

Stroke is one of the leading causes of death and disability in the U.S. In fact, it is estimated that every 40 seconds an American has a stroke. The signs and symptoms are distinguishable and should be considered a medical emergency requiring an immediate response.

A stroke occurs in several ways. Essentially, the brain requires a constant blood supply to function and live. The blood provides both oxygen and nutrients to the brain tissue and the supply route is through the arteries. When an artery supplying the brain either bursts or is blocked, the area of the brain dependent on the supply is compromised and brain tissue can die. There are two types of stroke. The one in which an artery is blocked accounts for 87 percent of all strokes. This is termed an ischemic stroke. The other type when an artery bursts — causing bleeding in and around the brain is termed a hemorrhagic stroke. The long-term outlook after a stroke is that because of brain tissue damage, an individual may have difficulties with walking, speaking, seeing and/or other daily tasks.

There are risk factors for stroke that are controllable and some that are not. Obviously you can’t control aging, your race, your gender ( at least at a cellular level) and your family history. However, the manageable risk factors include controlling your high blood pressure, keeping your cholesterol levels in the healthy zone, being a non-smoker, controlling your body weight, keeping your blood sugars under control and exercising to promote healthy circulation. High blood pressure is the single most important risk factor in considering stroke potential. This is because elevated blood pressure (hypertension) promotes thickening of the arterial wall (atherosclerosis). Unfortunately, high blood pressure can go unnoticed because there are no apparent symptoms. This is why it is called the “silent killer.” It is important to regularly check your blood pressure and to know that a healthy reading is generally given as 120/80. If your blood pressure readings are consistently over 140/90 you are in the danger zone and must take steps to lower your blood pressure. You can keep your blood pressure under control by limiting your intake of sodium which is abundant in may processed foods. You should also limit your alcohol intake, exercise regularly, and keep your body weight at a healthy level. Cholesterol levels also serious raise the chance of stroke. Too much cholesterol or plaque build- up in the arteries can cause abnormal blood flow and can clog arteries leading to stroke. As well as having your total cholesterol under control, (less than 200), you should have your HDL (the good cholesterol) over 40 and your LDL (the bad cholesterol) less than 100. Having your diet largely based on veggies, fruit and grains helps keep your cholesterol where it should be. Limit the saturated fat in your diet and be sure to include both aerobic exercise to reduce the LDL and resistance exercise to increase the HDL readings.

Signs and symptoms of a stroke are easily remembered by the mnemonic FAST. If you suspect that someone is sustaining a stroke you need to act fast to get them help. Call 911 so that they can get fast treatment and ensure the best recovery. FAST stands for Face, Arms, Speech and Time. Is the person’s face lopsided looking, is their smile even? Is there weakness in one arm? Can the person raise both arms? Is the person’s speech slurred, or do they have trouble understanding your speech? Time is of the essence, Call 911 FAST. Some other signs and symptoms of stroke are trouble seeing, dizziness, loss of balance and co-ordination and a sudden and severe headache.

Rehabilitation after a stroke may entail re-learning many everyday simple tasks such as walking, standing up and moving about. Because various parts of the brain may be affected by the stroke, speech and ordinary social skills may also need to re-learned. Avoidance is always the best policy and controlling the risk factors that you can certainly the best plan. You can find more information about stroke and lifestyle choices to avoid stroke


Dr. Jane Riley, EdD., is a certified personal fitness trainer, nutritional adviser and behavior change specialist. She can be reached at, 212-8119 cell/text and


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