The American Heart Association and American Stroke Association pair up every May to help raise stroke awareness. The vast majority of strokes – around 80 percent – can be prevented with healthy lifestyle changes. For example, high blood pressure is probably the leading risk factor of stroke, and it’s one of the risk factors you can control.
This article describes the different types of strokes, helps you recognize the symptoms, and explains risk factors and how you can reduce your risk.
Are There Different Types of Strokes?
When a blood clot or ruptured blood vessel interrupts blood flow to the brain, the patient has a stroke. This causes brain cells to die, because they’re no longer receiving the blood – and oxygen – they need to survive.
There are three types of stroke:
- Ischemic stroke is the type caused by a blood clot and accounts for around 87 percent of all strokes.
- Hemorrhagic stroke is caused by the rupture of a weakened blood vessel. The most common cause is uncontrolled high blood pressure.
- Transient ischemic attack is also known as a mini stroke and is caused by a temporary blood clot.
What Are the Symptoms of a Stroke?
The Stroke Association uses the acronym FAST to describe both the symptoms of a stroke and how you should respond if you notice them (i.e. quickly).
“F” stands for Face Drooping. If the person’s face droops on one side or feels numb, this is a sign of stroke. If you aren’t sure, ask the person to smile, checking to see whether it is uneven or lopsided.
“A” stands for Arm Weakness. If the person’s arm is weak or numb, he or she may be having a stroke. Ask the person to raise both arms, checking to see whether one arm drifts downward.
“S” stands for Speech Difficulty. Slurred speech, or an inability to speak, indicates stroke. A good test is asking the person to repeat a simple sentence.
“T” stands for Time to Call 911. If you notice any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately, even if the symptoms have ceased. Make a note of when the person first displayed symptoms; the paramedics will need this information.
In addition to FAST, the stroke victim may experience sudden trouble with vision, balance or dizziness, or a severe headache.
What Are Stroke Risk Factors?
Risk factors may be controllable, meaning you can reduce your risk through lifestyle changes, or uncontrollable, meaning there’s nothing you can do to reduce that risk factor.
Controllable risk factors include:
- High blood pressure
- Inactive lifestyle
- High blood cholesterol
- Carotid artery disease
- Peripheral artery disease
- Atrial fibrillation
- Other heart disease, such as coronary heart disease and dilated cardiomyopathy
Risk factors outside your control include:
- Family history
- Race (African Americans have a higher risk of stroke than Caucasians)
- Sex (women are more likely than men to both have and die from a stroke)
- A previous stroke, heart attack, or TIA
Medicare Covers Cardiovascular Disease Screenings
Medicare Part B covers a variety of preventive screenings designed to detect health issues early, while they’re still easy to treat. This includes cardiovascular disease screenings every five years to detect elevated stroke risk.
What Are the Effects of a Stroke?
How a stroke effects your body depends on a variety of factors, but particularly where in the brain it occurs and how much brain tissue was affected during the incident.
It’s important to note that each side of your brain controls the opposite side of your body. So, the right brain controls the left side of your body and vice versa. Therefore, a stroke on one side of your brain may lead to paralysis on the other side of your body.
If the stroke occurs in the right side of your brain, you may experience vision problems. Your behavior may also change and become more quick and inquisitive. If the stroke occurs in the left side of your brain, you may experience speech and language issues. Possible behavioral changes include becoming more slow and cautious.
A stroke may also occur in the brain stem, which may affect both sides of the body. Victims may not be able to move from the neck down.
Possible effects no matter where the stroke occurs include:
- Memory loss
- Muscle tightness and stiffness
- Communication challenges, including speech, language, reading, and writing
- Chemical changes in the brain affecting behavior
How Can You Improve Your Brain Health?
Improving your brain health helps lower your risk of stroke, memory loss, and dementia. Simple lifestyle changes and preventive care can have an incredible impact.
- Manage your blood pressure and, if it’s higher than 120/80, work with your doctor to lower it
- Follow a heart-healthy diet
- Quit smoking (Medicare Part B can help)
- Become more physically active – at least 30 minutes per day
- If you’re overweight, lose weight – even 10 pounds helps lower your risk
- Control your blood sugar, particularly if you have diabetes or pre-diabetes
- Work with your doctor to lower your cholesterol if it’s high
Practice Preventive Care
Medicare Part B covers preventive screenings to help detect stroke risk early, but it also offers counseling and support to beneficiaries who are looking to stop smoking or improve their nutrition and diet. A Medigap plan can help pay some of the costs not covered by your Medicare Part B insurance. If you’d like to learn more, call 855-350-8101 to talk to one of our licensed agents.
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