STROKE. Can It Happen to You?

My best friend Lisa died.  DIED.  She died less than a week after her 51st birthday. She started her birthday week with a headache; a headache that just wouldn’t go away.  Headaches were not common to her and this one was so bad that she complained about it and she was never one to complain about anything.  Yet, as we women so often do (men may do the same, but I’ve never been a man so I really can’t say) we push through things and keep going because that is what we do.  Lisa, always one to try to see humor in most anything remarked:  “I blame everything on menopause”.  I remain haunted by her social media post that week about her headache.

Lisa was my friend of over 35 years and we had plans of growing into sassy old ladies together laughing through life and old age together.  As I’m wading through grief and thinking about what could have made a difference, I’m writing to you about a silent killer and what we can do to keep that killer at bay.   Awareness of that killer, the risk factors and awareness of warning signs of a stroke are things that may have made a difference for Lisa and I know she’d want us to get the word out about it.

As women, we are saturated with information about breast cancer and it is pretty safe to say that we are all aware.   However, stroke kills twice as many women as breast cancer every year and we are not so aware of that.  On average, one American dies from stroke every 4 minutes; about 60% of stroke deaths occur in females.

According to the National Stroke Association:

  • Only 1 in 4 women can name more than 2 of the 6 primary stroke symptoms
  • 7 out of 10 women said they are not aware they are more likely than men to have a stroke, and were not at all or only somewhat knowledgeable about risk factors
  • African-American women suffer from a significantly higher number of strokes than Caucasian women, yet they were less likely to correctly identify what causes a stroke
  • Stroke is a leading cause of death for Hispanic women but they are significantly less aware of stroke symptoms
  • 80% of all strokes are Preventable

What is the leading risk for Stroke?

  • High Blood Pressure

High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) is a silent killer.  High blood pressure has no warning signs or symptoms and most individuals don’t know they have hypertension. Rarely, high blood pressure can cause symptoms like headaches or vomiting. It is vitally important to monitor your blood pressure on a regular basis.  Know your numbers! Having it checked at a doctor’s office is a good thing and it is done routinely at appointments, but that isn’t enough. High blood pressure goes undetected way too often; make sure you know what your blood pressure is by routinely monitoring it at home with an easy to use, inexpensive device and keep current with preventative exams with your healthcare practitioner.  Omron is a manufacturer of home units such as the one I now use:  Omron 5 Series Upper Arm Blood Pressure Monitor with Wide-Range Cuff.  Ideally, keep your blood pressure below 120/80. A blood pressure with a systolic reading of  180 or higher OR a diastolic reading of 110 or higher requires immediate emergency medical attention for hypertensive crisis.

About 7 of every 10 people having their first stroke have high blood pressure

How can you reduce your risk of high Blood Pressure?

  • Be Active. 30 minutes of intentional exercise/ physical activity each day.  Walking is excellent and YES you do have 30 minutes to spend each day to improve your health – of course you do! Visit QuittingTheSitting.org to learn how to become less sedentary each and every day.
  • Eat Well. Eat a healthy diet that is low in salt and saturated fat.  Eat a variety of vegetables and fruits.  Eat more vegetables and fruit!
  • Don’t Smoke. If you Smoke – quit as soon as possible. Visit SmokeFree.gov for some great information and assistance.
  • Manage Stress. Stress does damage to our body, mind & spirit.  If there are stressors in your life that you can kick to the curb – do it!  Find ways to cope with stress such as exercise, meditation or sitting down to color.
  •  Sleep isn’t a luxury, it is a priority.  So many things start going wrong when we don’t get quality sleep especially over a period of time so shore up your sleep hygiene practices and seek help if needed.

What are the warning signs of Stroke?

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

What are warning signs unique to Women?

  • Sudden hiccups
  • Sudden shortness of breath
  • Sudden heart palpitations
  • Sudden chest pain
  • Sudden face & limb pain
  • Sudden nausea
  • Sudden general weakness
  • 425,000 women suffer a stroke each year

Potentially life-saving medication can be administered within 3 hours of the sudden symptom onset to reverse stroke.  If you think you or someone else is having a stroke, call 9-1-1 immediately.  Stroke is a medical emergency. Do not drive yourself or wait for a ride from a friend or family member. have an ambulance transport you.

If you think someone may be having a stroke, act F.A.S.T:

F – FACE: Does one side of the face droop when the person smiles?
A – ARM or Leg Weakness: Does one arm/leg drift downward when raised?
S – SPEECH: Is their speech slurred or strange?
T – TIME: If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Ways to Prevent a Stroke?

  • Control your Blood Pressure
  • Don’t Smoke
  • Find healthy ways to cope with stress
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Get tested for Diabetes
  • Have your cholesterol & triglyceride levels checked
  • Drink no more than 1 alcoholic beverage per day

Take action now to control the things that you can to reduce your risk of a Stroke.  Be aware of the signs and be ready to take immediate action.  Don’t ignore symptoms that are sudden, unusual and without a known cause.  Trust your instincts! Be a lifesaver – share this information with others and ask them to share with their friends, family and co-workers.

Stay Healthy. Be STRONG.  Get After It.