Every minute counts.
Stroke is the third leading cause of death and a major cause of disability in the U.S. — leaving some stroke survivors paralyzed or unable to perform daily activities. African-American adults are 50 percent more likely to have a stroke than whites. And, those who do survive become disabled more than any other group.
Calling 911 and arriving to an emergency department within the first three hours of symptoms increases both survival and the chances of returning to normal functioning.
HOW IT KILLS
There are two types of stroke. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain leaks or bursts, releasing blood into the tight spaces in and around the brain. An ischemic stroke occurs when a clot blocks a blood vessel to the brain. “Mini-strokes,” formally known as transient ischemic attacks, is a milder form of an ischemic stroke, lasting less than five minutes. It is often considered a warning sign of a major stroke to come.
Blood is responsible for carrying oxygen to the brain. In both types of stroke, the brain is deprived of oxygen when blood flow is cut off. This lack of oxygen leads to different symptoms based on the areas of the brain affected.
Symptoms can include:
- One side of the face drooping compared to the other
- A numb or paralyzed arm or leg
- Difficulty speaking or confusion
- Blurry or blackened vision
- Headache in conjunction with one of the above symptoms
The clots can originate in the brain itself or in the blood vessels of the heart or neck. Most are related to enlarging plaques made of fat and cholesterol that coat the walls of blood vessels.HOW WE CAN OVERCOME IT
Control the main risk factors for ischemic stroke: high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and high cholesterol. Get screened and take all medications as prescribed. For hemorrhagic strokes, having an aneurysm or high blood pressure (the top number above 140 and the lower number above 80) are huge risk factors.
Adopt a healthier lifestyle. Add physical activity to the weekly routine, as well as a balanced diet with fresh fruits and vegetables. Begin a weight loss regimen, which can help prevent both high blood pressure and diabetes.
Call 911 as soon as symptoms develop — not family members or friends. Recognize the seriousness of the symptoms. Waiting to see if the symptoms resolve on their own results in delayed treatment. In order for the clot-busting medication to work, it should ideally be given in the first three hours. As many as half of survivors who are given this medication will reverse their disability within three months.
With hemorrhagic stroke, time is still just as important. There is no need for clot-busting medication with this type of stroke, but neurosurgeons can repair aneurysms to prevent further bleeding. Even those without aneurysms can benefit from early treatment and avoid complications.
Certain illicit drugs can also lead to stroke. Just one-time use of cocaine, crack cocaine or methamphetamines can lead to stroke symptoms.
WHAT OTHERS ARE DOING TO KEEP US HEALTHY
African-Americans are 70 percent more likely to die from stroke.
Yet, a study out of University of Rochester showed that with aggressive medical treatment and attention, blacks had a better survival rate than whites.
This study is encouraging, and adds weight to the theory that with better medical care, African-Americans can potentially overcome the disparities. It is unclear why, in this particular study, the care was more aggressive to begin with. A lead researcher on the project felt that families advocating for the patient was the key to determining the type of care received.
Neurologist Dr. Olajide Williams at Columbia University Medical Center aims to use family, in particular, children, to recognize stroke symptoms among their parents and grandparents, and immediately call 911. He uses hip-hop music to get the message across.