Each year about 800,000 people suffer stroke in the United States and about 140,000 of those strokes will be fatal making stroke the fifth leading cause of death in America. It’s my hope that awareness, education and screening can help change the numbers of people having strokes.

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.

Treatment of stroke should first be 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 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.

A simple screening test to find blocked arteries to the brain is called a carotid artery ultrasound screening test. This screening is offered at Holy Family Memorial for $35 and you can make an appointment without a referral. It’s easy and definitely something important to consider. If blockage is found, there are two different procedures that can be done to treat plaque buildup to help prevent stroke.

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.

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.

Take time now to lower your risk factor to help prevent stroke in your life and make an appointment for Carotid Artery Ultrasound Screening by calling (920) 320-6777. Learn more about vascular screenings.

Milan Jordan MD MPH FACS
About the Author

Milan Jordan, MD, MPH, FACS, is a vascular surgeon at HFM General & Vascular Surgery. To learn more, visit hfmhealth.org/surgery.