A stroke is a disruption in the blood flow to the brain that causes rapid cell death, ending in death, coma, or physical and mental disability. Around 75% of stroke survivors are disabled to some degree, as the damage to the brain during the stroke hampered their ability to move or communicate.
The two types of stroke are ischemic and hemorrhagic. By far the most common type of stroke, an ischemic stroke is caused by loss of blood flow to the brain, typically due to a clot in the arteries. Hemorrhagic strokes are far less prevalent at only 15% of strokes, but they are far deadlier, accounting for around 40% of stroke deaths. They are caused by damage to a blood vessel in the skull, resulting in internal bleeding in the brain or the meninges, the coverings that envelop and protect the brain.
Are you at a higher risk of having a stroke?
The number one cause of any type of stroke is high blood pressure, as this condition can both weaken and rupture blood vessels as well as lead to the formation of blood clots and a layer of plaque within the arteries. High blood pressure (also called hypertension) is defined as a blood pressure measurement of 130/80 mmHg and above.
Seniors make up nearly 75% of stroke victims, as the odds of having a stroke more than double each decade after the age of 55. This is largely due to a weakening arterial integrity on top of other preexisting risk factors. Additionally, women are more susceptible to have a stroke than men, and die at a higher rate from stroke than men.
Common risk factors for stroke include smoking, diabetes, sickle-cell anemia, a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, and a diet rich in fat, oil and salt.
How to identify a stroke
The tell-tale signs of a stroke are:
1. One side of the face drooping down, even when the person is trying to smile
2. One arm dropping to the side uselessly
3. Slurred and nonsensical speech.
If someone displays either of those signs, call an ambulance, as time is of the essence.
What does a stroke feel like?
The symptoms of a stroke vary, depending on several factors, such as the side of the brain that was affected and your gender. Common symptoms include:
• Feeling numbness in the face or limbs, particularly on one side of the body
• Sudden trouble seeing with one or both eyes
• Problems associating language (either written or spoken) with meaning
• Difficulty speaking or forming meaningful words
• Losing balance and coordination
• A severe, inexplicable headache
Additionally, these symptoms are specific to women:
• Nausea and vomiting
• Labored breathing
• General weakness and pain
• Loss of consciousness
All stroke symptoms tend to appear suddenly and in full force.
In 1996, neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor had a massive stroke on the left side of her brain. Here is how she describes the experience:
What can you do if you’re having a stroke?
The first thing you should do if you think you’re having a stroke is call 911 immediately. Tell the operator that you suspect you’re having a stroke. 911 operators are often trained to suspect that a caller with slurred speech has a stroke, so even if they don’t understand you, they may be able to send help.
While there is little you can do when you’re having a stroke, there are ways to better prepare for it:
If you’re in the risk group of having a stroke, you should consider getting a wearable medical alarm button. Seeing as how complex motor functions and communication might be impaired by a stroke, preventing you from effectively placing a call to 911, having a one-click solution that will send help your way can be invaluable in saving time- and your life.
Several apps in your app store, such as SirenGPS (iOS, Android) can also serve as an emergency button, sending out your location information to family members who have the app installed, and informing them you made a call to 911. They will then be able to pass along your location to the first responders, who will be able to get to you more swiftly.
Consider printing out these first aid instructions for a stroke emergency, which include step by step care, medical and contact information, which you can give to the nearest person in case you think you’re having a stroke.
No one can anticipate a stroke, but being prepared for it in advance could mean the difference between life and death.