You might think of strokes as something that only impacts older adults, but they can strike at nearly any age. Any condition that results in a lack of blood flow to the brain can result in permanent disability. Therefore, you must recognize the signs and risk factors.
Strokes occur when a blood vessel in your brain becomes blocked or ruptures. As a result, a part of this organ dies. The aftermath can entail significant rehabilitation — but knowing the causes can help you reduce your risk. Early treatment, likewise, mitigates some of the devastating effects.
What Causes Strokes?
Sometimes, strokes occur with no apparent cause, but frequently, various risk factors combine to cause the damage. These fall into two categories — those you can control and those you cannot.
Risk Factors You Control
The risk factors that you can control have to do with your lifestyle choices. By making wiser decisions, you can reduce your risk significantly.
- High blood pressure: Too much pressure against cranial arteries can cause them to burst, resulting in a stroke. You can reduce your blood pressure by cutting down on salt and alcohol consumption, eating a healthy diet and taking regular exercise.
- Diabetes: If you have diabetes, you have problems controlling your blood sugar. Fortunately, the same lifestyle changes that help you reduce blood pressure can also get your glucose under control. However, if you have the Type 1 form of the disease, you will need insulin for life.
- Obesity and inactivity: If you eat too many calories but don’t burn them off, you will gain weight, which increases the stress on your heart and blood vessels. Getting moving and maintaining a healthy weight reduces risk.
- Smoking: The nicotine and carbon dioxide in cigarettes damage your cardiovascular system. You can take advantage of free resources to help you quit. Don’t lose hope if you tried in the past but failed. Many former smokers took several attempts to kick the butts.
Risk Factors Beyond Your Control
The older you are, the more your risk of a stroke increases. Another risk factor for stroke is your genes — if either parent had a stroke, you are more likely to have one. African Americans and women run a higher risk than others. Your socioeconomic status also plays a role — those who live in poverty are more likely to be affected.
What to Do If You Suspect a Stroke
If you suspect a stroke, how you handle the causes significantly impacts the effects. The symptoms involve sudden numbness or weakness on one side of the body. You might have difficulty seeing, walking and even remaining upright. These symptoms may manifest as a droopy face or falls in other people. Learn the acronym FAST — facial drooping, arm weakness, speech slurred — time to call 911.
Seconds count. The sooner you seek medical treatment, the more likely it is to make a full recovery. Patients who take an anticoagulant medication within three hours of the initial blockage can reduce their chances of long-term disability significantly. If you aren’t sure, make the call and let the professionals make the assessment.
Dealing With Stroke’s Aftermath
Strokes can lead to permanent disability. The typical hospital stay averages five to seven days, but the rehabilitation process can extend for months, even years. By the six months mark, many individuals achieve full recovery, but others develop chronic stroke disease that requires ongoing care.
If you have a stroke, you can expect some or all of the following during the rehabilitation process.
- Motor skill training: You may need to relearn how to use your limbs as your brain builds new neural pathways to control them.
- Technological rehabilitation: Your therapy team may use robotic devices, functional electrical stimulation or virtual reality to help you regain function.
- Psychological care: Many people who have a stroke develop anxiety and depression during the aftermath. Talking to a trained professional can help you process the emotions surrounding the event.
Researchers continue to search for new treatments, including biologics like stem cells, in treating stroke. In the meantime, your best bet for a full recovery involves early detection and treatment. Learn the signs and seek immediate medical attention if you suspect you or someone you love is experiencing this event.
Know the Causes and Effects of Stroke to Reduce Your Risk
Learning the causes and effects of stroke can help you reduce your risk. By quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet and maintaining a reasonable weight through exercise can lower your chances, and early detection is your best hope for a cure.