If you’ve experienced a stroke or seen a loved one go through it, you know firsthand how devastating it can be. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S. and a leading cause of severe disability, yet many people don’t know the warning signs or risk factors. That’s why we’re here to raise awareness about stroke prevention and early intervention.

On average, one person dies from a stroke every four minutes. That’s a staggering statistic, but the good news is that 80% of strokes are preventable. National Stroke Awareness Month comes about every May as a month-long observance dedicated to educating communities about the prevalence and impact of strokes.

As healthcare providers, we play a crucial role in stroke awareness by educating patients about stroke risk factors, warning signs, ways to prevent a stroke, and the importance of acting “F.A.S.T.” when a stroke occurs to minimize the damage and improve outcomes.

In this article, we’ll provide valuable information that can help reduce the impact of strokes on individuals, families, and communities. We’ll cover everything from the different types of strokes (did you know that some are totally silent), risk factors, and lifestyle changes, to treatment options and what it means to act “F.A.S.T.”

Our hope is that this information will provide you a better understanding of the impact of strokes and the steps you can take to prevent and respond to them so that we can work together to reduce the devastating impact of strokes on individuals and communities.

What Is A Stroke?

A stroke is a medical emergency that occurs when blood flow to the brain is disrupted or blocked. The brain requires a continuous supply of oxygen and nutrients from the blood to function correctly. If this supply is interrupted, even for a brief period, brain cells can start dying within minutes.
During a stroke, the symptoms can vary depending on which part of the brain is affected. Common symptoms can include:

  • Sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding speech
  • Sudden vision changes
  • Sudden and severe headache
  • Dizziness and loss of balance or coordination.

A stroke can result in lasting brain damage, long-term disability, and even death. The reason people can die from a stroke is due to the loss of critical brain function caused by the death of brain cells.

The brain controls many vital functions, including breathing and heart rate, so if areas of the brain that control these functions are damaged during a stroke, it can be life-threatening.

Additionally, strokes can lead to other complications such as difficulty breathing, pneumonia, or brain swelling, which can further increase the risk of death.

However, with timely and appropriate medical care, the risk of death from a stroke can be significantly reduced. It’s important to seek immediate medical attention if you suspect you or someone else may be experiencing a stroke to maximize the chances of a positive outcome.
Anyone can have a stroke; however, some people are at a higher risk. Age is a significant risk factor, increasing significantly after age 55. Men are also more likely to have a stroke than women, although women are more likely to die from a stroke.

Other risk factors for stroke include:

  • Family history of stroke and heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Physical inactivity

Certain medical conditions, such as atrial fibrillation, carotid artery disease, and sickle cell disease, can also increase the risk of stroke. Additionally, lifestyle factors such as heavy alcohol consumption and drug use can increase the risk of stroke.

It is crucial for individuals who are at a higher risk of stroke to take steps to manage their risk factors. This may involve lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and exercising regularly. Medications may also be prescribed to manage conditions such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

What Are The Different Types of Strokes?

Ischemic strokes and hemorrhagic strokes are the two main types of strokes. Ischemic strokes are the most common type, accounting for approximately 87% of all strokes. They occur when a blood clot forms in a blood vessel in the brain or elsewhere in the body and travels to the brain, where it becomes lodged in a smaller blood vessel and blocks blood flow. This can result in a lack of oxygen and nutrients to the affected area of the brain, leading to cell death and brain damage.

Hemorrhagic strokes, on the other hand, occur when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures and causes bleeding. This bleeding can lead to increased pressure within the brain, which can damage brain tissue and cause symptoms such as headaches, nausea, vomiting, and confusion.

In addition to ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes, there is also the “mini-stroke,” also known as  transient ischemic attacks (TIAs). TIAs occur when blood flow to the brain is temporarily interrupted, usually due to a blood clot, but the clot dissolves on its own before any permanent damage is done. While TIAs do not typically cause permanent damage, they are often a warning sign that a more serious stroke may be on the horizon.

What Are the Signs of a Stroke?

Recognizing a stroke’s symptoms and warning signs is crucial to receiving prompt medical attention and improving the chances of a positive outcome. The symptoms of a stroke can vary depending on the type of stroke, but there are some common signs to look out for.

In an ischemic stroke, the most common type of stroke, symptoms may include sudden weakness or numbness in the face, arm, or leg, usually on one side of the body. Other symptoms can include sudden confusion or trouble speaking, sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes, sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination, and sudden severe headache with no known cause.

In a hemorrhagic stroke, symptoms may be similar to those of an ischemic stroke, but they may also include nausea and vomiting, neck pain, and sensitivity to light. In some cases, the person may also experience seizures or lose consciousness.

Transient ischemic attacks, or mini-strokes, may cause symptoms similar to those of a full-blown stroke, but they typically last only a few minutes to an hour and do not cause permanent damage. Symptoms of a T.I.A. may include sudden weakness or numbness in the face, arm, or leg, usually on one side of the body, sudden confusion or trouble speaking, sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes, and sudden trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination.

It is important to seek medical attention immediately if you or someone you know experiences these symptoms. The faster a stroke is diagnosed and treated, the better the chances of recovery and minimizing long-term damage.

Why You Need to Act ‘F.A.S.T’ if You Think You Are Having a Stroke

F.A.S.T. is an easy way to remember the most common symptoms of a stroke and what to do if you or someone else is experiencing them.

Each letter stands for a different symptom:

  • F = Facial drooping: Check for drooping or numbness on one side of the face. Ask the person to smile, and observe if one side of the smile is uneven or drooping.
  • A = Arm weakness: Check for weakness or numbness in one arm. Ask the person to raise both arms and see if one arm drifts downward.
  • S = Speech difficulty: Check for slurred speech or difficulty understanding speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase, like “The cat chased the mouse.”
  • T = Time to call 911: If you or someone else experiences any of these symptoms, it is crucial to call 911 immediately. Every second counts in stroke treatment, so do not delay seeking medical attention.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any symptoms of a stroke, it is vital to act F.A.S.T,

Remember that time is of the essence when it comes to treating a stroke. Every minute counts, and delaying medical attention can lead to serious long-term damage or even death.

Can You Have a Stroke Without Knowing?

Yes, it is possible to have a stroke without knowing it. This is often referred to as a silent stroke.

A silent stroke is a type of stroke that occurs when blood flow to a part of the brain is blocked, but there are no noticeable symptoms or effects on the individual.

These types of strokes may go unnoticed for hours, days, or even weeks but can still lead to issues with memory, balance, and coordination in the future, as well as an increased risk of future strokes.

It’s important to note that the longer a stroke goes unnoticed and untreated, the greater the risk for serious long-term damage or even death. If you have any concerns about your risk for stroke or have experienced any warning signs or symptoms, talk to your doctor immediately. They can perform imaging tests, such as an MRI or CT scan, to determine if you experienced a silent stroke.

Risk Factors For Having A Stroke

Several factors can increase an individual’s risk of having a stroke. Some risk factors can be controlled or managed, while others cannot. The following are some of the most common risk factors for stroke:

  • High blood pressure: This is the most significant risk factor for stroke. High blood pressure can damage the arteries in the brain, making them more likely to rupture or become blocked.
  • Smoking: Smoking can increase the risk of stroke by damaging blood vessels and making blood more likely to clot.
  • High cholesterol: High cholesterol levels in the blood can lead to the buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries, which can increase the risk of stroke.
  • Diabetes: People with diabetes are at higher risk for stroke due to the increased likelihood of developing high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
  • Obesity: Obesity is linked to many risk factors for stroke, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
  • Family history: If an individual has a family history of stroke, they may be at higher risk due to genetic factors.
  • Age: The risk of stroke increases with age, especially in individuals over the age of 55.
  • Gender: Women are at higher risk of stroke than men, mainly due to hormonal differences.
  • Race and ethnicity: Certain ethnic groups, such as African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans, are at higher risk of stroke due to higher rates of high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.

It’s important to note that having one or more of these risk factors doesn’t necessarily mean an individual will have a stroke, but it does increase their risk.

By managing controllable risk factors, such as maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, and managing chronic conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes, individuals can significantly reduce their risk of stroke.

How Are Strokes Treated?

When someone has a stroke, there are several vascular surgery procedures that can be used to treat the underlying condition that caused the stroke. These procedures can help to prevent future strokes and reduce the risk of complications.

One of the newer vascular surgery procedures is called TransCarotid Artery Revascularization (TCAR). TCAR is a minimally invasive procedure that is used to treat carotid artery disease, which is a major cause of stroke.

During a TCAR procedure, a small incision is made in the neck, and a stent is inserted into the carotid artery to improve blood flow to the brain. The procedure is done under local anesthesia and takes only about an hour to complete.

Another minimally invasive procedure that can be used for stroke treatment is endovascular thrombectomy. This procedure involves inserting a catheter into an artery in the groin and threading it up to the blocked blood vessel in the brain. The clot is then removed, allowing blood to flow freely to the affected area of the brain.

Other vascular surgery procedures that may be used for stroke treatment include:

  • Carotid endarterectomy
  • Angioplasty and stenting
  • Bypass surgery

The choice of procedure will depend on the specific circumstances of the individual case, as well as the experience and expertise of the treating physician.

It is important to note that while vascular surgery procedures can effectively treat the underlying condition that caused a stroke, they cannot reverse the damage already done to the brain. That is why it is essential to recognize the warning signs of a stroke and seek immediate medical attention if you think you or someone else may be having a stroke.

Assess Your Risk of Stroke with Vascular Screenings at The Surgical Clinic

At The Surgical Clinic, we offer vascular screenings to help individuals identify their stroke risk and take steps to prevent it. Our screenings use state-of-the-art technology to detect early signs of vascular disease and provide personalized recommendations for managing risk factors and improving overall cardiovascular health.

By taking advantage of these screenings, individuals can take control of their health and reduce their risk of experiencing a stroke.Don’t wait until it’s too late – schedule a vascular screening at The Surgical Clinic today.

Click here for more information and to find a location in Middle Tennessee where exams are provided.