Stroke Prevention, Warning Signs & TIA
Managing or treating the risk factors for stroke, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure, obesity and smoking can significantly reduce the incidence of stroke.
If preventive measures are not enough to avoid the development of cerebrovascular diseases such as cerebral aneurysms, carotid, vertebral or intracranial stenosis, discuss with a doctor the options available to eliminate the formation of clots in the arteries in the head and neck; to address stenosis, or hardening of the arteries, before a total blockage occurs; and to repair weakened blood vessel walls before they rupture.
Strokes and transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) strike suddenly and often without warning. Ischemic strokes DO NOT typically cause any pain and can sometimes cause very subtle changes—but they require immediate medical attention. Remember to call 911 or have someone drive you to a designated stroke center emergency department. Do not drive yourself or wait for symptoms to improve.
The most common warning signs of stroke or TIA are sudden onset of:
- Numbness, weakness or paralysis of face, arm, or leg, usually of one side of the body
- Difficulty speaking or understanding others
- Change in visual or onset of double vision
- Dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Severe headache or neck ache with no other apparent cause (less often)
An easy acronym to remember is FAST, which stands for Face Drooping, Arm Weakness, Speech Difficulty and Time to Call 911. If someone is experiencing these symptoms, don’t waste TIME call 911.
TIME IS BRAIN!
Just like a heart attack, every minute counts. Seek emergency medical attention as quickly as possible with the onset of symptoms. The quicker a person experiencing stroke is able to obtain treatment, the faster the blocked blood vessel can be reopened to restore blood flow to the affected area of the brain—and, hopefully, minimize brain damage and subsequent disability.
WARNING SIGNS OF STROKE
STROKE RISK FACTORS
Preventing a major cerebrovascular event from occurring is still the best treatment for stroke. The following risk factors can be addressed to help reduce the risk of stroke. These are called modifiable risk factors:
- Hypertension – High blood pressure is the leading cause of both ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes.
- Weight – Even modest weight gain (24 – 43 pounds over 16 years) almost doubles the chances of suffering a stroke.
- Cigarettes – Smoking doubles the chance of a stroke.
- Carotid Stenosis – The buildup of fatty plaque on the insides of the carotid artery increases the chance of an ischemic stroke.
- High Cholesterol – High cholesterol levels can promote carotid stenosis and lead to a stroke.
- Atrial fibrillation
- Hormonal contraceptives
- Obesity and being overweight
- Physical inactivity and poor diet
- Alcohol and/or drug abuse
Some risk factors cannot be altered, but patients should be aware of factors that predispose them to stroke. These are called non-modifiable risk factors:
- Age – A person’s chance of stroke doubles for every decade over 55 years of age.
- Family history of stroke – Stroke risk is greater if a parent, grandparent, sister or brother has had a stroke.
- Race – African Americans and those of Latin descent have a much higher risk of death from a stroke than Caucasians do. This is partly because these populations have higher risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.
- Gender – More men will suffer a stroke than women. However, more than half of total stroke deaths occur in women. In other words, more women than men die of stroke.
Understanding the risk factors for stroke is an important step in preventing stroke. Patients with these risk factors should mention their concerns about stroke to their primary care physician. Consultation with a stroke prevention specialist, such as Dr. Lopes, may be appropriate in some cases.
TRANSIENT ISCHEMIC ATTACK (TIA)
A Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) is a temporary interruption of blood flow to part of the brain that produces stroke-like symptoms, including numbness, weakness, confusion and trouble speaking, among other symptoms, but no lasting damage. Unfortunately, most strokes do not come with a warning TIA. However, more than a third of the people who have had one or more TIA will later suffer a stroke. More than half of these subsequent strokes will occur within one year of the TIA.
TIAs occur for the same reasons a true stroke occurs, but the body is able to correct the problem quickly and without intervention. A TIA happens when a blood clot temporarily clogs an artery and part of the brain does not get the blood it needs. The stroke-like symptoms appear rapidly but last a short time, typically several minutes to 24 hours. The average TIA duration is about one minute. Unlike a stroke, when a TIA is over there is no permanent injury to the brain. However a TIA is serious and indicates that you have an increased risk of having a true stroke.
All adults should understand the warning signs of stroke and TIA, especially those with increased risk. The temporary symptoms of TIA include:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness or loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
Dr. Lopes urges all patients who believe they have suffered a TIA or stroke-like symptoms to seek medical care immediately. Prompt medical attention is key to preventing a major stroke.