Driving to work one afternoon Heath thought his leg felt numb and heavy on the accelerator. He reached for the soda next to him but his arm was also numb and not responding normally. He pulled over to the side of the road thinking he needed to walk it off. When the numbness barely subsided, he still decided to drive to his destination, the store where he worked. After arriving he consulted with coworkers who urged him to get medical care, so he drove to the nearest emergency room. The doctors looked at him in amazement recognizing the signs of an urgent medical crisis. Heath was transported by ambulance to the nearest major hospital where he remained for five days.
It was a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA), a mini stroke. The TIA occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked for a short time, usually less than five minutes. Someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds. Every four minutes, someone dies as the result of a stroke.
Heath’s underlying diabetic condition and high triglycerides contributed to the TIA, which caused a temporary blockage of blood flow to the brain. The time at the hospital was spent monitoring his condition and getting his diabetes treatment back on track. They also monitored his blood pressure, and talked with him about making better choices with food.
A mini stroke may not be a major episode, but it is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. It’s also a warning sign of a future stroke. More than one-third of people who have an undiagnosed TIA have a major stroke within a year, while ten to fifteen percent of those people have the next one within three months.
Strokes don’t come with a warning; they don’t wait until it’s convenient for you. Driving, cooking, or working, if you are at risk for a stroke, you won’t know when it will happen. The brain is responsible for everything you do from walking and talking to reasoning and decision making. Having a stroke puts all of these resources at risk.
There are two types of major stroke episodes: Ischemic and Hemorrhagic.
An Ischemic stroke happens when a vessel supplying blood flow to the brain is blocked for more than a few minutes. Fatty deposits along the blood vessel walls are responsible for these types of strokes. This is the most common type of stroke.
An Ischemic stroke is most common among people who are suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes, have high cholesterol levels or an abnormal heart rhythm. If you have any of these indications, be sure to take any medicines that your doctor prescribes to prevent future strokes.
With a Hemorrhagic stroke, a weakened blood vessel ruptures. The blood leaking from the artery puts pressure on the brain, compressing the brain tissue. The most common cause of hemorrhagic stroke is uncontrolled high blood pressure.
Treating a hemorrhagic stroke involves finding and controlling the source of the bleeding. In addition, medications that could increase bleeding, like aspirin, may be halted. Sometimes surgery is necessary to repair the ruptured blood vessel.
Once is enough
If you’ve survived one stroke, you still have the potential for another. One out of four stroke survivors has another. The number one risk for stroke is high blood pressure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 80 percent of strokes in the U.S. are preventable through lifestyle changes.
- Get regular exercise. Even walking 30 minutes a day is enough to help.
- Watch your diet including salt, which can spike your blood pressure,
- Watch your weight. Work with your doctor to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
- If you smoke, quit. The nicotine in cigarettes makes your heart beat faster, raising your blood pressure.
- Get an annual physical that includes checking cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Work with your healthcare provider to get these under control.
Since leaving the hospital, Heath has been on top of his diabetes and has been making an effort to be more careful about what he’s eating. He’s also been working on getting more exercise during the day although his job keeps him on his feet quite a bit. “I know I need to take better care of myself so I don’t have another stroke,” said Heath. “I’ve been given a warning with the TIA, now it’s up to me.”
If you think that you, or someone you know, is having a stroke, remember this acronym to help identify the signs: BEFAST
Eyes: Are you experiencing blurred or double vision?
Face: Does the smile droop on one side?
Arms: when trying to lift both arms does one arm drift down?
Speech: When repeating a simple phrase is the speech slurred?
Time: If you see any of the signs, call 911 for emergency medical attention.