Having a stroke is one of the scariest and most life-altering medical issues you can suffer because it attacks your brain. And it does so suddenly, with little warning. A stroke is caused by a loss of blood to the brain that happens when there’s an obstruction in the blood supply or a blood vessel inside the brain ruptures or leaks. This causes a portion of the brain to be deprived of oxygen and nutrients and the brain tissue starts to die. In the U.S., stroke is the fifth most common cause of death, trailing only heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease and accidents.
While a stroke can occur to anyone at any age, seniors are at a higher risk. In fact, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately two out of every three patients hospitalized for a stroke were 65 years of age or older.
The best way to protect yourself and reduce the likelihood of suffering a stroke is to live a healthy lifestyle. This starts with eating a healthy diet that includes plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, while limiting red or processed meat as much as possible. Avoiding excessive amounts of cholesterol, saturated fat and salt is also a good idea, and regular exercise helps by increasing your heart rate and keeping your muscles in good condition. While exercise may become more challenging as you age, it’s important to remember that you don’t need to start jogging a mile every day or lifting weights. Even moderate exercise like walking can help reduce your risk of stroke.
By living a healthy lifestyle, you can increase the flow of blood throughout your body, which not only reduces your risk of stroke, but also makes it less likely that you’ll have a heart attack. Living a healthy lifestyle that reduces your risk of stroke also includes:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Giving up cigarettes, if you smoke
- Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption
- Controlling your blood pressure
- Keeping your blood sugar in check, if you have diabetes
- Treating obstructive sleep apnea, if you have it
Your doctor might also prescribe anti-coagulant or anti-platelet medications to enhance the efficiency of your blood flow, and will likely suggest you take an over-the-counter aspirin once a day.
Know the Symptoms
If you or someone you know suffers a stroke, getting medical attention as quickly as possible – within the “golden hour,” if possible – is the best way to save the patient’s life and provide the best opportunity to have a high quality of life after recovery. Many health professionals use the acronym FAST to help people recognize the onset of stroke:
- Face drooping – If the patient smiles, does one side of the face hang lower than the other?
- Arm weakness – If the patient attempts to raise both arms, does one arm drift downward?
- Speech problems – If the patient tries to say a simple phrase, does it sound strange or is it slurred?
- Time to call 911 – If any of these signs occur, call 911 immediately.
Life After a Stroke
While people do recover from stroke, the process can be challenging and frustrating and may not be a full recovery. In addition to paralysis and numbness on one side of the body, stroke can cause long-term chronic headaches, confusion, vision problems and trouble walking, as well as bladder or bowel control problems.
So take the steps to reduce your likelihood of suffering a stroke and enjoy a high quality of life free of the after effects of this debilitating health issue.