A stroke is serious – just like a heart attack. Yet, we don’t know as much about it enough as we should.
Stroke is one of those dreadful events that can cause death in an instant. While it is the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., it is more likely that the person suffering this attack on the brain will survive it, sometimes barely. Stroke is a leading cause of disability, robbing people of the ability to do even the simplest of tasks, such as feed or dress oneself, walk and talk.
Each year in the United States, there are approximately 795,000 strokes. Five hundred thousand of these strokes are first-time occurrences. Stroke is the fourth-leading cause of death in the country. And stroke causes more serious long-term disabilities than any other disease. Nearly three-quarters of all strokes occur in people over the age of 65 and the risk of having a stroke more than doubles each decade after the age of 55.
African-Americans have a much higher risk of death from a stroke than Caucasians. This is partly because Blacks have higher risks of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. For African Americans, stroke is more common and more deadly – even in young and middle-aged adults – than for any ethnic or other racial group in the United States. In any given year, 100,000 African-Americans will have a stroke, and stroke is the third-leading cause of death in the African-American community.
According to the National Stroke Association, stroke or heart disease will claim the lives of half of all African-American women. African-Americans have more severe strokes that are also more disabling.
Blood is circulating through your body all the time in tubes called arteries and veins. Usually, these blood vessels work fine and there’s no problem. That’s important because blood carries oxygen to all the cells in your body. And without oxygen, the cells would die.
A stroke can happen if something keeps the blood from flowing, as it should. A person might have a clogged blood vessel, so the blood can’t get through. Or, a blood vessel may burst and a part of the brain is suddenly flooded with blood. Either way, with a stroke, brain cells die because they don’t get the oxygen they need.
On average, half the damage from a stroke happens within the first 90 minutes, 90 percent by three hours, and 99 percent by six hours. Yet, the average person waits 22 hours to get help. A University of Michigan study showed that a primary obstacle to care among African Americans was that they were less likely to arrive at the hospital in an ambulance than were Whites.
The best treatment for stroke is prevention. Some of the following risk factors are inherited, others are lifestyle-related and easier to change:
High blood pressure. This is risk factor number one for stroke, and up to 40 percent of African-Americans have the condition;
Obesity. Nearly 63 percent of African-American men are overweight or obese, and that number jumps to just more than 77 percent for women;
Diabetes. African Americans are also more likely to have diabetes than Caucasians;
Tobacco use. Almost 28 percent of African-Americans use tobacco, one risk factor that can be reduced or eliminated by stopping the use of tobacco products or never starting in the first place and
Sickle cell anemia. The blood disease sickle cell anemia is a condition that primarily affects African-Americans. A stroke can occur if sickle- or abnormally-shaped blood cells create a blockage in a blood vessel.
If you smoke – quit. If you have high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, or high cholesterol, getting them under control – and keeping them under control – will greatly reduce your chances of having a stroke.
Stroke symptoms include: Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg (especially on one side of the body); Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech; 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. Stroke damage in the brain can affect the entire body – resulting in mild to severe disabilities. These include paralysis, problems with thinking, problems with speaking, and emotional problems.
Because stroke injures the brain, you may not realize that you are having a stroke. The people around you might not know it, either. Your family, friends, or neighbors may think you are confused. You may not be able to call 911 on your own. That’s why everyone should know the signs of stroke – and know how to act fast.
Don’t wait for the symptoms to improve or worsen. If you believe you are having a stroke – or someone you know is having a stroke — call 911 immediately.
Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one.
The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.)
Glenn Ellis, is a regular media contributor on Health Equity and Medical Ethics. He is the author of Which Doctor?, and Information is the Best Medicine. Listen to him every Saturday at 9 a.m. (EST) on www.900amwurd.com, and Sundays at 8:30 a.m. (EST) on www.wdasfm.com. For more good health information, visit: