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May 10 2016
Screening Can Help Lower Your Risk of Stroke

May is National Stroke Awareness Month. Each year about 800,000 people suffer stroke in the United States and about 130,000 of those strokes will be fatal making stroke the fifth leading cause of death in America. 

Risk factors for stroke are the same as those for heart disease and blockage of the leg arteries called peripheral artery disease (PAD). Tobacco use, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, diabetes, history of heart disease or previous stoke, older age, inactive lifestyle, and obesity all are associated with increased risk of stroke. If your immediate family members had these conditions, you may share their risk for stroke. 

Stroke represents damage and death of brain tissue by two main causes. Hemorrhagic stroke involves a bursting of a blood vessel in the brain interfering with function and blood supply to the tissue, and is responsible for about 15 percent of strokes. The majority of strokes (85%) are due to blockage of a brain artery, and termed ischemic or thromboembolic stroke. This can happen when an artery feeding the brain is severely narrowed and clots, or when plaque or platelets in the blood travel into the brain. 

The signs of stroke are a sudden onset of weakness or paralysis (complete loss of function) of the side of a face, arm, or leg and sometimes associated with numbness or “pins and needles” in the affected area. You may experience speech problems with inability to form words or sentences which make sense. Your speech may be garbled and/or you may complain of vision disturbance described as a shade being pulled over your eye. These signs can be permanent, termed completed stroke, or can be temporary, called a TIA, or transient ischemic attack. If you experience any of these signs, call 911 and get to a hospital as soon as possible because early treatment can save your life or lessen the amount of neurological damage.

Treatment of stroke should be first at prevention, or lowering your risk factors by stopping tobacco use eating a healthy diet, being physically active, and taking your medications as directed by your health care provider. Most people at risk for stroke should be on a daily aspirin. Stroke patients diagnosed early are sometimes transferred to special stroke centers which can give clot busting drugs, or use special catheters to remove clot, or balloon open blocked arteries.  Patients with completed stroke, TIA, or a severe blockage of the carotid artery (the main artery to the brain), may be treated with medicine, or offered procedures to open the artery such as a carotid endarterectomy (opening the artery and removing plaque), or using a balloon with a stent inside the artery.
Speak to your health care provider to find out what your risks are for a stroke. A simple screening test to find blocked arteries to the brain is called a carotid artery ultrasound screening test. This screening is offered at a very reasonable out of pocket cost in the hospital I work at and you can make an appointment without a referral. It might be something you wish to consider. 

Milan Jordan, MD, MPH, FACS is a vascular specialist at Holy Family Memorial General & Vascular Surgery.


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