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Stroke: Early Warning Signs that May Save Life

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With stroke, everybody would seem at risk. Deluding oneself with a sense of safety that one is young or well may be misleading. Think again! Statistics show that many middle-aged and even younger or supposedly healthy people have succumbed to an unexpected encounter with stroke. Stroke is also a big killer, while many surviving victims end up with some physical impairment. Is this a message to keep you on edge, waiting for or worrying about a stroke? Certainly not. The exact opposite is the goal - to equip you with knowledge that should help you live safer, minimise the risk of a stroke and if, by any chance a trigger occurs, have a better grasp to move quickly to save life. Given that the person that suffers the onset of a stroke loses co-ordination and may be oblivious of the problem, your understanding of this health danger may also help you save the life of a loved one! It is your recognition of the problem and prompt action to find medical help that could mean a saved life and minimised damage.

Overview: Key Questions
What is a stroke, what are the risk factors to control and what warning signals should trigger a suspicion of imminent stroke?

1. What a Stroke Is and Does
A stroke is the sudden death of brain cells when cut off or obstructed from normal blood supply. A blood clot, for instance, can block a blood vessel supplying the brain or part of the brain. A burst artery, which causes blood to flow into the brain itself is also as damaging. When the normal flow is disrupted, oxygen and nutrients supply to the brain area are constrained, leading to cell death and disorienting the brain in the process. Strokes caused by a clot or other blockage are more common and are termed ischemic strokes. Blood vessel bursts which lead to cerebral haemorrhage, cause haemorrhagic strokes. This constitutes below 25% of stroke occurrences. Overall, stroke is a high-impact health problem, with a high mortality profile. Many deaths occur annually and that is accentuated by the physical impairment it inflicts on many survivors, leaving them largely dependent and taking away much of the excitement of life.

2. Early Warning Signs
Because of some loss of the proper functioning of the brain, the stroke victim may manifest any of the following indications:

  • Partial or total loss of voluntary movement - usually affecting the arms, legs, mouth, etc;
  • Loss of natural sensation in part(s) of the body, say legs, arm, etc. This could be partial or total;
  • Speech impairment - unable to coordinate mouth movement leading to slurred speech;
  • Weakness or paralysis in a part of the body;
  • Facial paralysis or drooling;
  • Numbness or tingling sensation in the arm, leg, face, mouth or other part;
  • Sudden impairment of vision: blurring, dimness, or even blindness, usually in one eye;
  • Loss of balance or some feeling of dizziness;
  • Sudden inability to understand what others are saying or what is read;
  • Difficulty with swallowing due to motor coordination failure.

Any, or a combination of these indications may be present. Understandably, the effect that is noticed will depend on which part of the brain in most affected. It's important to state that some of these symptoms may also be caused by some other factor(s) than stroke. Considering the danger however, it is best to act quickly in getting medical help and letting the expert undertake the necessary assessment.

3. Major Risk Factors to Watch
While immediate action is imperative to save a victim and limit damage (only a window of some 3 hours is available and remedy is best within 1 hour of attack), it is most important to know what could expose you to a heightened risk of a stroke. That way, you can aim for the best solution: prevention. The following factors raise the risk of a possible stroke:

  • High Blood Pressure
    Elevated and uncontrolled blood pressure (BP) is easily the biggest threat and risk factor. If your BP is high, please work with your doctor to get it under control. The risk of stroke is believed to proportionately increase with increases in the BP level, above the normal range.
  • Smoking
    A habit of smoking also puts you on the danger list for stroke. Why? Because smoking induces what is called atherosclerosisoss in the carotid arteries - a constriction that can lead to blockage and stroke. You make the choice, but if you dread the consequences of a stroke, a wise step will be to quit smoking.
  • Diabetes Mellitus
    Diabetes also has the effect of closing the small blood vessels. When this happens in the brain, it has the same impact of shutting the brain off needed oxygen and causing a stroke. Controlling the sugar level and impact of diabetes saves you at both ends.
  • High Cholesterol Level
    Cholesterol builds plaque in the blood vessels which poses the risk of blockage of the vessels. It is thus a possible cause for stroke. Get your cholesterol level down if it's up. Your doctor will guide you through dietary and, if necessary, medication options for getting the cholesterol level down.
  • Heart Disease
    A diseased heart is also a risk factor. Heart problems are weighty on their own, meaning that you need to seek the best possible solution before it degenerates to a stroke or other complication.
  • Family History
    Without a specific personal exposure, a family history of strokes reads a warning to exercise some care.

4.Treatment And Management
The first important step is the emergency response to get critical medical treatment urgently available to a stroke victim. The window of opportunity is narrow, meaning that those around him/her must act fast.

Assessment and treatment is really the function of medical experts (this is definitely no area for self-medication), but it's important to understand that:

  1. If timely treatment is available, the risk of death is reduced;
  2. With timely treatment also, post-attack physical impairment will be moderated or totally eliminated. In effect, normal physical fitness can be attained;
  3. Medication is available for the treatment and management of stroke, but your best bet is to keep it at bay. Fortunately, there is a lot of personal care you can take - keep your BP in check, drop that deadly smoking habit, cut down on cholesterol, develop physical fitness and manage other health factors that can predispose to a stroke.
  4. Knowledge is the best weapon you have for tackling life's problems, whether of health or in other spheres. You have all to gain by learning more about various health problems and what you can do to healthy living.
  5. A habit of regular medical check-ups, even when you feel good, still remains a major tool for proper health management. Build it into your calender and make effort to observe it. Prevention is always a better solution.

In the pursuit of the means of livelihood, never lose sight of the need to protect and preserve the most-important tool - your health.

© Copyright 2008

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