May is National Stroke Awareness Month

2014-05-16_15-12-46May became National Stroke Awareness Month by Presidential Proclamation 5975 on May 11, 1989, by President George H. W. Bush at the urging of the National Stroke Association. Ever since, the National Stroke Association has been extremely vigilant during the month of May to increase the awareness of the public in regard to strokes. The goal is to conquer this debilitating condition that is linked to other chronic conditions such as heart disease and high blood pressure.

There are educational events going on across the country this month. Locally, the Limestone Council on Aging also did an article on Stroke Awareness. According to the National Stroke Association, the goals of this month are as follows:
• Elevating stroke in the mindset of everyone in the U.S., so more people care about supporting stroke research and education.
• Ensuring that everyone understands the emotional, physical and financial impacts that strokes have on our country.
• Influencing others to improve their health by sharing personal stories of how stroke has already affected the lives of so many.
• Talking to legislators and thought leaders about how their decisions can positively affect survivors throughout their recovery.
• Providing a platform for more than 7 million survivors and their families to discuss their experiences and live with dignity. Stroke survivors possess the most influential and inspiring knowledge needed to make an impact on society. Their voices are so important.


So, what is a stroke? As defined by the National Stroke Association, a stroke “occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery (a blood vessel that carries blood away from the heart) or blood vessel (a tube through which blood moves through the body) breaks, interrupting blood flow to an area of the brain.” When either of those two things happens, the surrounding brain tissue dies and damage occurs. Wherever brain cell death occurs, those abilities controlled by the area affected are lost. This could include speech, movement, memory, and even basic life function such as breathing and your heart beating. Affects are determined by what area is damaged and how much it is damaged.

There are also different types of strokes, ischemic and hemorrhagic. Ischemic strokes are broken down into two categories called embolic (a blood clot from somewhere else in the body travels to the brain and blocks blood flow) and thrombotic (direct blockage of an artery leading to the brain). Hemorrhagic strokes occur when blood vessels break or “blow out,” causing excessive bleeding to an area of the brain. There are two types of hemorrhagic strokes, subarachnoid (an aneurysm that bursts in a large area on or near the thin, delicate membrane lining the brain allowing blood to spill into the protective fluid and contaminating it) and intracerebral (bleeding occurring from a vessel within the brain itself).

Controllable Risk Factors: Incontrollable Risk Factors:
-High blood pressure -Age
-Atrial Fibrillation (A-fib) -Gender
-High Cholesterol -Race
-Diabetes -Family History
-Atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries) -Previous Stroke
-Circulation issues -Fibromuscular Dysplasia (underdeveloped arteries)
-Tobacco Use/Smoking -Patent Foramen Ovale (hole in heart that
failed to close in childhood)
-Physical Inactivity

Signs and Symptoms of a Stroke:
• Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
• Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
• Sudden difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
• Sudden dizziness, trouble walking, loss of balance or coordination
• Sudden severe headache with no known cause

There is also an acronym, FAST, that helps you remember how to identify signs and act on them accordingly:
Face-ask the person to smile; does one side of the face droop?
Arms-ask the person to raise both arms; does one drift downward?
Speech-ask the person to repeat a simple phrase; is speech slurred or strange?
Time-if any of the above signs are observed, call 9-1-1 immediately as time is key!

If caught in time, healthcare professionals can intervene and give a clot-busting drug called TPA if diagnosis of the most common type of stroke (thrombotic) occurs within the first 3 hours of onset of symptoms.

Educate yourself and your loved ones on this very debilitating and deadly condition. It is preventable and treatable. Know your risk factors and discuss them with your healthcare professional today. Come up with a plan to modify those you can and be aware of those you can’t.

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By: Rachel Clark RN, BSN