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Seniors statistically have more strokes. Learning the signs of a stroke and proactive stroke prevention can help you live longer and better

Every 40 seconds, a person in the U.S. experiences a stroke, and three-quarters of strokes occur in people over age 65. While not all strokes are preventable, some are. And every stroke needs to be taken seriously and handled immediately. Here, we explain stroke warning signs and what to do if you think you or someone else is having one. We also describe tips to help decrease the risk of stroke, which can go a long way in preserving your health. 

What is a stroke? 

A stroke occurs when blood flow in the brain is interrupted. This happens in two ways: by a blockage or when an artery becomes damaged and bursts. The outcome of a stroke can be devastating because of the resulting brain damage and brain tissue death. The lasting impairments of a stroke depend on several factors, such as the part of the brain that was deprived of vital oxygen-rich blood and the extent of the tissue damage; disability can be short-term or last a lifetime. It is possible to die from just one stroke. 

There are three types of stroke you should know about:

  • The most common type of stroke is an ischemic stroke. This happens when a brain artery is blocked, usually because of a build-up of cholesterol or a blood clot in the vessel.
  • A TIA, or transient ischemic attack, is a “mini” stroke that occurs because an artery blockage is only partial and resolves itself relatively quickly by once again allowing blood flow. Observable signs of a TIA come and go quickly. They last only a few minutes without permanent observable signs after about an hour. Don’t let the outcome fool you, though. A TIA is a red flag, a warning of a future stroke, often within six months
  • A hemorrhagic stroke happens when an artery in the brain bursts or leaks, and the escaping blood causes swelling and pressure that damages the surrounding brain tissue.

Stroke warning signs

There are some things we can’t control when avoiding a stroke, and not all strokes are preventable. But, knowing when you or another person is having a stroke can mean the difference between life and death. 

These are signs of a stroke:

  • Slurred or no speech
  • Paralysis or numbness in any limb or the face
  • Visual disturbances
  • Difficulty walking

What to do if you think someone is having a stroke

With strokes, time is of the essence. To decrease brain damage and increase the chances of a better outcome, acting quickly can save a life. 

  • Call 911 or alert medical personnel in your facility immediately.
  • Make sure the person having a stroke is in a safe position.
  • Ask them to smile. You will probably see that their smile is uneven.
  • Ask them to raise both of their arms. You will probably see they cannot do so on one side, most likely on the same side as their facial droop.
  • Ask if they have a headache. A severe headache and nausea or confusion may indicate a stroke.

Signs of a TIA or “mini-stroke” can be much more subtle. With a TIA, the first indication may be a far-away, unfocused look and no speaking ability. These, paired with one or more stroke symptoms, completely resolve within a few minutes. Even so, a TIA victim needs emergency medical attention immediately.

Are strokes preventable?

Many risk factors contribute to the possibility of stroke. Some of these factors include age, biological sex, race, and family history. Fortunately, 90% of strokes are highly preventable. It is widely known that lifestyle choices can go far in living longer and better. 

Since 2012, stroke deaths have significantly declined. There are multiple factors supporting this hopeful statistic. A key reason is that education like this on stroke prevention is reaching more people.

What you can do to prevent a stroke

Starting today, here are the things you can do to lower the risk of stroke:

  • Maintain a healthy BMI. A higher BMI (Body Mass Index) is the medical definition of being overweight or obese. A high BMI leads to high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and inflammation. All these conditions lead to higher stroke rates.
  • Medically manage your heart. AFib and other heart arrhythmias and heart disease increase the risks of clotting, which is the cause of ischemic strokes. Follow your primary care provider’s instructions to best care for your cardiac issues.
  • Monitor your cholesterol levels. With proper diet, exercise, and cholesterol-lowering medications, you can take charge of one of the leading causes of artery blockages everywhere in your body, including your brain.
  • Eliminate nicotine in any form.
  • Carefully monitor and manage your diabetes/pre-diabetes. People with diabetes are more prone to strokes and die more often than those without a diabetes diagnosis.
  • Watch your intake of alcohol, dietary fat, and salt. These avoidable substances factor into poor diabetes, weight, and blood pressure management.
  • Properly treat your sleep apnea. The prescribed breathing machines for nighttime apnea (Bi-PAP/CPAP) may seem inconvenient, but they can be crucial in stroke prevention. 

Strokes can happen suddenly and require immediate medical attention, so knowing the signs of a stroke can help save your life. And, making healthy lifestyle decisions can help decrease your chances of experiencing a stroke, which is even better.