One evening after my husband had turned 65, he noticed some numbness and tingling on the right side of his body. At first, he thought he’d sat in his chair too long. But after trying to get up and moving around, he noticed his balance was off. We didn’t recognize it at first, but he was having a stroke.
After he got to the hospital, we were advised that not only did my husband have a stroke, but he’d also experienced an earlier one. A few months earlier, my husband thought he was having a stroke, but he was assessed at the hospital and told no stroke had occurred. Unfortunately, this missed diagnosis may have put my husband at greater risk for a second stroke. According to the American Stroke Association, 80 percent of second clot-related strokes may be preventable with proper management.
A Leading Cause of Death and Disability
Strokes are the fifth leading cause of death and disability in the United States. The likelihood of having a stroke also increases with age. My husband was fortunate. He survived his stroke. However, he has lived for the past few years with constant numbness or tingling on the right side of his body.
The U.S. Government Centers for Disease and Control reports that the most common type of strokes (87%) are ischemic, where blood flow to the brain is blocked. Someone in the U.S. has a stroke every 40 seconds, and every four minutes, someone dies of a stroke.
Behaviors and Conditions that Increase the Risk of a Stroke
Managing our risk for strokes is something we should all take seriously and should be discussing with our doctors. A 2013 Harvard Health Medical Center article suggests that while a family history of stroke or other factors might be out of our control, there are some lifestyle practices that may lessen the risk of stroke for many of us.
It should be no surprise that smoking creates one of the biggest risks of having a stroke. Too much alcohol (more than two drinks per day for a man or one per day for a woman) or binge drinking is another risky behavior. Sitting too much, consuming too much salt, or eating too much food with saturated fat may also increase the risk of a stroke. In addition, failing to manage weight, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, and diabetes can put us at greater risk. Poorly managed diabetes can quadruple stroke risk. “Two-thirds of people with diabetes eventually die of a stroke or heart attack.” How we manage our health can literally mean the difference between life and death or long-term disability.
The American Sleep Apnea Association explains that individuals (often those who snore heavily) who stop breathing for ten or more seconds at a time while sleeping likely suffers from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea “causes low oxygen levels and high blood pressure” which can increase the likelihood of a future stroke. If a doctor suspects her patient has sleep apnea, she can order a sleep study test. If sleep apnea is confirmed, a CPAP (breathing machine) may address the problem.
Know Common Symptoms
Citing a 2009 study, Medical News Today outlined some possible stroke symptom differences between men and women. The study found that the most common symptoms men tend to experience when having a stroke include difficulty with balance, weaknesses on one side of the body, or numbness on one side of the body. Women were more likely to experience headaches, confusion, and feeling lightheaded.
Even though women and men may sometimes experience different stroke symptoms, Medical News Today reminds readers to remember the FAST acronym:
Face drooping – one side of the face may droop because of numbness when trying to smile
Arm weakness – a person having a stroke might not be able to raise one or both hands above their head
Speech difficulty- a person may have difficulty speaking or not make sense
Time- a stroke is a medical emergency and time matters.
An Insightful Account
Even though the likelihood of having a stroke may increase as we get older, they can occur at any age. Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroanatomist, wrote a vivid account of a stroke she experienced at the age of thirty-seven. As a brain scientist, Taylor not only explains what she experienced while having her stroke, she offers some insights about our brain and some valuable insights about healing. The title of her book is My Stroke of Insight.