After decades of progress, the CDC warns that there has been an uptick in stroke deaths, especially among Hispanics and those living in the South.
In their MMWR, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the CDC reports the following:
Blacks experienced the highest stroke death rate compared with other racial/ethnic groups, and the stalling of the rate of decline among this group began in 2012. Among Hispanics, the stroke death rate trend reversed in 2013, changing from a 3.6% decline per year during 2000–2013, to a significant 5.8% increase per year during 2013–2015.
Although high blood pressure is one of the most significant risk factors for stroke, other causes cited by the CDC included obesity, diabetes and the flu.
Influenza has been shown to increase stroke risk, therefore flu shots have been shown to significantly lower risk.
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What is a stroke?
A stroke occurs when an area of the brain does not get the proper oxygen and blood flow it needs. There are two major types of stroke. Ischemic and Hemorrhagic.
Ischemic strokes are more common than the latter and occur when a clot prevents blood flow to part of the brain. 80% of all strokes fall under ischemic. It is a likened to a heart attack, except the brain tissue is being deprived of blood and nutrients. Plaques commonly arise from arteriosclerosis that break off travel to the smaller vessels of the brain.
Hemorrhagic strokes are less common and occur when there is a bleed of one of the brain vessels. The bleed prevents blood flow into the brain since it is seeping outside the brain tissue, causing damage to nearby cells. The bleeds could occur from high blood pressure or aneurysms that rupture.
What are the signs of a stroke?
Since a clot or bleed usually affect one area of the brain, we see symptoms on one side of the body, many times its contralateral (opposite) side. We can also see central effects. The symptoms of stroke include the following:
Weakness of one side of the body
Loss of balance
Numbness on one side of the body
How are strokes treated?
If the stroke was caused by a clot (ischemic) immediate treatment includes dissolving/removing the clot. Aspirin is used initially and if within the proper time frame, tissue plasminogen activator (TPA). These clots can also be surgically removed and arteries widened to bring blood flow to the brain.
With a hemorrhagic stroke, we need to stop the bleed and improve flow to the brain. Controlling the bleed, bypassing the vessel, “clogging” the aneurysm with techniques such as “coiling” (endovascular embolization) are sometimes utilized.
Time is of the essence, so its crucial to identify the warning signs and call 911 immediately. The American Stroke Association uses the acronym “FAST” (Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, and Time to call 911). The sooner a stroke victim receives medical attention the better the prognosis.
COURTESY OF THE AMERICAN STROKE ASSOCIATION
What are the risk factors for stroke?
The following put us at risk of having a stroke.
High blood pressure
Family history of stroke
Cardiovascular disease (artery clogging, such as the heart and carotid arteries)
Abnormal heart rhythms, such as atrial fibrillation
Being older (greater than 55)
African-Americans appear to be more at risk than Caucasians and Hispanics
Men seem to be more affected than women
How do we prevent strokes?
Avoid the following:
Control blood pressure, sugar and cholesterol
Get evaluated by a medical provider if at risk for heart disease or stroke.