Ask the Expert: Five things to know about stroke

ReneeExpertStroke deaths have declined significantly over the past few decades, as more people have quit smoking and treated high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Although this is a promising trend, stroke still remains the fifth highest cause of death and the highest cause of serious, long-term disability, so there is no room for complacency.

As the stroke coordinator for Tucson Medical Center, I personally work with hundreds of families every year who come to us for stroke treatment, helping them learn more about the after-effects of a stroke and how to reduce their risk of future strokes.

Knowing more about stroke can save your life. Here are the top five things that could help:

  • Know the signs – and get help FAST! FAST is an acronym that helps you remember the most common signs of a stroke: Face drooping, Arm weakness and Speech difficulty when you ask them to repeat a simple sentence. If any of those symptoms occur – even if they go away – it’s Time to call 9-1-1 and get to the hospital immediately. It is often helpful to note the time when the symptoms first appear.
  • Know the risk factors you can influence. High blood pressure is the single highest cause of stroke and the most important controllable risk factor. If you’re a smoker, stop. Try to eat a diet low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol, as well as avoiding high salt diets or consuming more calories than you need. Try to get a total of 30 minutes of activity on most days. Drug and alcohol abuse can also raise risk of stroke.
  • Know the risk factors you can’t influence. There’s nothing you can do about your age, race or gender. The fact is the chance of stroke doubles for each decade of life after age 55. Women have more strokes than men and they tend to be fatal more often, with some factors including birth control pills, hormone therapy and pregnancy. African Americans have a higher risk of death from a stroke than Caucasians. Family history may also play a role – as does your own. Someone who has had what’s called “mini-strokes” or transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) is 10 times more likely to have a stroke than someone who hasn’t – which is why TMC offers an outpatient-based TIA Screening Clinic that provides assessments and care plans to avoid future strokes. Why does it matter, if you can’t control or treat these factors? Because it makes it all the more important to make progress on the ones you can.
  • Know the effects of stroke. Strokes often damages parts of the brain. If the damage is on the left side, it may limit your ability to move the right side of your body, compute math problems and absorb what you read and hear. If the damage is on the right side, it may impact movement on the left side of your body, impede creative thought and make it harder to make plans. Along with problems walking or speaking, it is possible that stroke can also affect cognitive and emotional abilities and may interrupt sleeping patterns, trigger memory lapses, and lead to depression or fatigue.
  • Know there is hope. The severity of stroke and the pace of recovery vary widely from person to person and it can be frustrating for those who expect rapid recovery. The good news is that we now know that the central nervous system can rebuild lost skills and abilities over time. Stroke rehabilitation programs, which often start soon after you leave the hospital, are important in helping you devise strategies to improve your quality of life.

Renee McAloney is a nurse and the stroke coordinator at Tucson Medical Center, which is a certified Primary Stroke Center and provides comprehensive neurological care and service 24 hours a day, seven days a week.   

Tucson Medical Center hosts a monthly Stroke Support Group, which takes places the third Monday of every month from 10:30 a.m. to noon, for both stroke survivors and their care partners. For more information, please call 324.1960.

Know your risk of stroke so you can take steps to address it. TMC is hosting Stroke Prevention Saturday on April 16 to provide free screenings for all community members. Screening stations will include blood press and pulse, body mass index, cholesterol screening, ECG rhythm, Carotid Doppler ultrasound, nutritional counseling and diabetes education. It begins at 7 a.m. at Tucson Medical Center, 5301 E Grant Road, with the last intake at 11:30 a.m..

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Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461
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