According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, there are more than 700,000 strokes in the United States each year. By far, the most common type of stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is halted. In the case of this type of stroke, every moment counts. Lack of blood causes brain cells to begin dying within minutes, which means early recognition and treatment of a stroke are critical to minimizing damage. Strokes are the leading cause of severe long-term disability.
Recognize the warning signs
Because early recognition of a stroke is essential to helping save lives, it is important to know the signs that a stroke may be occurring:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg (especially on one side of the body).
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech.
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
If you suspect a stroke, call 911 as soon as possible. Emergency teams at Columbus Community Hospital — including televised neurology consults from Nebraska Medicine in appropriate cases — are prepared to help those suffering from a stroke. Many patients have immediate treatment options for minimizing the damage caused by a stroke.
Rehabilitation after a stroke
Damage from strokes can vary, causing mild to severe disabilities that affect multiple areas of the body. There are different therapy techniques that help stroke patients relearn skills:
Movement control and pain or difficulty with the senses: Strokes can cause a range of muscle or nerve impairments, from muscle weakness to paralysis, and exercises with physical and occupational therapists can help strengthen and stretch muscles.
Language, memory and thinking: Those who have suffered a stroke have difficulty forming coherent sentences and need help learning to communicate effectively. They also can have challenges with memory and other thinking processes. Speech and language therapists can help stroke victims learn to communicate again and improve their memory.
Emotional health: Stroke can often have a noticeable effect on behavior or judgment. Stroke sufferers can experience anxiety, fear or depression, and frustration stemming from a slow and challenging recovery. Open communication with the health care team about emotional health problems is essential to any recovery plan. Help can come from professional sources such as doctors and counselors, as well as family, friends and patient support groups.
Preventing a stroke
As is the case with many diseases, prevention is the best way to defend against stroke. While many risk factors for stroke are beyond a person’s control, such as age, gender, race or ethnicity, and family history, there are areas in which you can lower your risk. The American Stroke Association suggests that you:
- Avoid smoking and secondhand smoke.
- Keep physically active.
- Watch what you eat. Avoid foods high in cholesterol, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and added sugars.
- Take your medicine as directed. Managing diabetes and high blood pressure is essential.
- Work toward and maintain a healthy weight.
- Take steps to reduce your stress level.
- See your doctor for regular checkups and for information about risk factors and prevention efforts.
Dr. Mark Howerter is the Emergency Room Physician Director at Columbus Community Hospital.