Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability in the United States. But it doesn't have to be that way — up to 80 percent of strokes are preventable. Increasing your knowledge of stroke causes, treatment, and prevention can help you reduce your risk and ensure that you and your loved ones get effective care quickly. Here are five essential stroke facts to know.
1. Stroke Can Occur at Any Age
Although we tend to think of stroke as something that occurs in older people, it can occur at any age. That means stroke can happen to babies, children, and young people, too. The risk of stroke increases with type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, which often occur in people who are overweight. As these conditions become more common among young people, stroke has become more common among them, too. One in seven strokes occur in people between the ages of 15 and 49 years.
2. Stroke May Be Preventable
About half of strokes are preventable by making healthy lifestyle choices to reduce risk factors.
"Diet is number one," says Lucian Maidan, MD, Regional Medical Director of Stroke and Vascular Services at the Dignity Health Neurological Institute and neuroendovascular surgeon at Mercy Medical Group, a service of Dignity Health Medical Foundation. He recommends eating a cholesterol-lowering diet that emphasizes plant-based foods over animal products, such as the Mediterranean diet. He advises eating red meat once or twice a week at the most.
Taking 20 minutes per day for physical activity that gets your heart rate up, such as walking or even housecleaning, can also help prevent stroke. Other lifestyle choices affect stroke risk too, so refrain from smoking and limit alcohol consumption. Going in for regular medical care can help your doctor identify treatable risk factors.
3. There Are Stroke Risk Factors You May Not Know About
Most people know that high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes raise the risk of stroke. But there are more unusual causes of this medical emergency, and treatment for these risk factors can reduce the risk of stroke.
For example, injuries or other trauma to the neck or head can injure an artery and cause a stroke. Atrial fibrillation (AFib or AF), which affects more than 2 million people in the U.S., can allow blood to pool in the heart and form clots, which can lead to a stroke. Luckily, in people with AFib, treating the condition can reduce the risk and prevent stroke in 75 percent of strokes.
4. There Are Different Kinds of Stroke
About 80 to 87 percent of strokes are caused by a blood clot that stops the flow of blood to the brain. These are called ischemic stroke. The other 13 to 20 percent are hemorrhagic, in which a burst blood vessel cuts off the blood supply. Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) are actually mini ischemic strokes and can be a warning sign for full stroke. In about one-third of ischemic strokes, clinicians can't find a clot or clogged artery to blame the attack on. These cases are called cryptogenic strokes, or strokes with no known cause. According to Dr. Maidan, some of these may be associated with a small hole in the heart. In these cases, stroke can be prevented with a device that closes the hole.
5. Time Is Essential
No matter what the cause, for maximum effectiveness, stroke treatment should start within three hours of onset. Recognizing the signs of stroke can help ensure the patient gets to the closest medical facility as quickly as possible. A fast and accurate diagnosis of the type and cause can make all the difference in the outcome.
Medical knowledge of stroke and its treatment is expanding all the time. Knowing stroke facts can help reduce your risk of stroke and ensure the most effective treatment if stroke occurs.