It’s the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S., the number one cause of serious, long-term disability, and it affects one American every 40 seconds. A stroke, sometimes called a “brain attack,” can happen to anyone at any time, which is why World Stroke Day on October 29th is so important.
World Stroke Day recognizes the resilience of the eighty million stroke survivors, along with the support and commitment of their family, caregivers, and medical teams. October 29th is also a day to raise awareness and spread the word about the symptoms of stroke, risk factors, and the existence of treatment options to increase the success rates for survivors.
The numbers are overwhelming; each year, nearly 800,000 people experience a new or recurrent stroke. It can happen to anyone at any time, but the thing is, most strokes can be prevented by up to 80%. The key is to know the facts, warning signs, and steps you can take to lower your risk. Find out the causes of stroke, some common-sense ways to help prevent one from happening, and the options for post-stroke rehabilitation.
Know the Risk Factors
Some stroke risk factors are beyond your control, including your age, family history, gender, and even your race. Men, African-Americans, Native Americans, and Alaskan Natives are more likely to experience a stroke compared to women and other ethnicities. However, there are lifestyle factors that can also heighten the risk of stroke, which include heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, heavy drinking, and smoking.
Know the Symptoms
During a stroke, time is critical and every second counts.
The National Stroke Association defines a stroke as an emergency incident when blood flow to an area of the brain is cut off.
When this happens, brain cells are deprived of oxygen and begin to die. This causes damage to different areas of the brain, resulting in cognitive, emotional and physical side effects.
From loss of memory and processing emotions, to temporary muscle weakness and sometimes-permanent paralysis, the aftermath of a stroke and success of rehabilitation is dependent on how quickly someone is treated. That’s why it’s vital to be able to recognize the symptoms and identify a person experiencing a stroke.
Common stroke symptoms include:
- 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 without a known reason
Control High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a major risk factor for stroke. While many believe that high blood pressure only affects a person’s heart, it’s actually one of the most overlooked causes of stroke. It’s often referred to as the silent killer because high blood pressure usually doesn’t reveal any symptoms. However, healthy eating habits, regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight, can help control it. Since high blood pressure also increases naturally with age, it’s so important to get regular checkups by your doctor to make sure your numbers are within the normal range.
Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
Eating a healthy diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats can go a long way. This, along with reducing sodium intake and processed foods can help control blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke. Regular exercise is also a proven method of prevention. In the latest stroke prevention guidelines, the American Stroke Association recommended that healthy adults get at least 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise 3 to 4 days a week.
Did you know that smoking cigarettes can double your risk of stroke? Quitting smoking, even if you have been a long-term smoker, can reduce your stroke risk, as well as reduce your risk of heart attacks, chronic lung disease, cataracts, high blood pressure, and other serious conditions.
Post-Stroke Rehab and Treatment
Recovery can be a challenging and lifelong process. Common problems after a stroke include numbness and/or weakness in the arms or legs, difficulty walking, vision problems, depression and anxiety, trouble swallowing, and problems with speech, comprehension, and memory. While these effects can be permanent, many stroke survivors regain their abilities with rehabilitation therapies.
Unfortunately, there is a lack of awareness by many about treatment options. Here are some therapies that can help increase the rates of successful rehabilitation for stroke victims:
For those have trouble speaking after a stroke and even trouble swallowing, speech therapy is crucial. A licensed speech therapist can help patients regain skills they lost while also teaching them how to compensate for damage that can’t be reversed.
After a stroke, it’s completely expected for survivors and their loved ones to experience a range of intense emotions, from fear and anger to sadness and grief. Bouts with depression and anxiety are also a common side effect. Talking with a psychologist or mental health professional can help navigate these emotions and provide strategies for coping. Another helpful approach is to join a support group with other stroke survivors who can relate to the challenges of overcoming a stroke.
Muscle weakness, problems balancing, and conditions that interfere with walking or daily activities are very common after a stroke. Physical therapy and regular exercise is a way to regain strength, balance, coordination, and above all—independence.
Many stroke survivors may also experience a condition called foot drop, in which they have problems lifting the front part of the foot, causing it to drag. Simple activities, from walking long distances, to maintaining balance while standing become difficult and can add strain to their daily lives.
While treating a condition as complex as foot drop is never a one-size-fits-all approach, Ankle-Foot-Orthosis (AFO) are often preferred as a first line of treatment. They help stabilize the ankle for a more comfortable gait and prevent the foot from dropping toward the ground when walking.
Thuasne USA offers four different performance-tested AFOs that can help provide rehabilitation, reduced pain, and greater mobility. The SpryStep, SpryStep Max, SpryStep Plus, and the Dynamic KAFO, all which are custom fabricated for specific needs and have been independently tested to ensure a greater range of motion and lasting durability. With orthotic options and physical therapy to regain strength, those with foot drop can begin to take the necessary steps toward a better quality of life after stroke.
World Stroke Day is coming up on October 29. Join millions around the world in spreading the word about stroke prevention, risk factors, treatment, and recovery. Stroke may be a leading cause of death around the world, but by creating awareness and knowing what to look for, we can all help fight stroke 365 days a year.