Am I at Risk for Stroke?

Every year, more than 795,000 Americans experience a stroke, and one-third of them are under the age of 65.

Stroke is the 5th leading cause of death in the United States and a leading cause of adult disability. Yet, we know that stroke is one of the most preventable of all life-threatening diseases.

A stroke, or brain attack, occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted by a blood clot or a broken blood vessel. This lack of oxygen kills brain cells in the immediate area, often causing physical and emotional disabilities including speech problems, memory loss and paralysis.

Stroke prevention is a key element in reducing the number of strokes in this country. A National Stroke Association poll found that while most people understand that strokes may be prevented, 21 percent have no idea how. Furthermore, 87 percent of the public wants to hear about stroke risk and prevention from their doctors.

Risk factors for stroke can be genetic or related to lifestyle choices that make a person more likely to suffer a stroke. The two primary types of risk factors are those that are modifiable and those that are not. It's important to keep in mind that controlling modifiable risk factors can significantly reduce the risk of stroke, even in patients who have genetic risk factors.

Unmodifiable stroke risk factors include being over age 55, being male, being African-American and having a family history of stroke. People falling into any of these categories tend to have a higher risk for stroke.

Modifiable risk factors for stroke are medical disorders that may be treated with medication or surgery. These conditions include high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, a personal history of stroke, tobacco and heavy alcohol use, poor diet, limited exercise, obesity, and atrial fibrillation - an irregular heartbeat which allows blood to pool in the heart and can lead to blood clots.

If you have any of these risk factors for stroke, it is important that you work with a health care provider to learn about medical and lifestyle changes you can make to prevent having a stroke.

It is never too late to start taking action to lower your stroke risk. The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association worked with some of the nation's leading experts on stroke and heart disease to develop Life’s Simple 7:

Get active. Include exercise in your daily routine.
Control cholesterol. If it is elevated, work with your doctor to control it. 
Eat better. A Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease.
Know your blood pressure. If it is elevated, work with your doctor to control it. 
Lose weight. If you are overweight, work with your doctor to control it.
Reduce blood sugar. If you have high blood sugar, you may be diabetic so work with your doctor to control it.  
Stop smoking. If you currently smoke, work with your doctor to help you quit. 

If you have any stroke symptoms, seek immediate medical attention and call 911. 

Most common stroke symptoms:

Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg - especially on one side of the body 
Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding 
Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes 
Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination 
Sudden severe headache with no know cause 

Up to 80% of strokes may be preventable, with proper attention to lifestyle and medical risk factors. Stroke is also treatable, providing people recognize the symptoms and seek emergency medical treatment. Treatment exists to minimize the effects of stroke, however it must be given shortly after a stroke occurs.

Remember to ask your doctor, "Am I at risk for stroke?" To assess your risk, contact the Stroke Team at Emory MBNA Stroke Center by calling 404-778-5770.