Strokes, who is susceptible, ways to prevent, what to do

'The damage done each minute someone is having a stroke ages the brain three weeks as a result of the brain cells lost.'

By: Pat Miller .

Shannon Pitt, stroke coordinator
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BEMIDJI, Minn. -– During the last quarter, emergency department personnel at the Sanford Bemidji Medical Center saw 23 patients who were in the midst of a stroke. Unfortunately, reversing part of the damage caused by the strokes was possible for only three of those patients. Intervention was not an option for the other 20 because they didn’t come to the emergency department in time.

“Our biggest problem in treating stroke victims is that the patients don’t come immediately,” said Shannon Pitt who is the stoke coordinator at Sanford Bemidji. “Patients wait, wait and wait some more, and by the time we see them there often is not much we can do. The damage done each minute someone is having a stroke ages the brain three weeks as a result of the brain cells lost.”

Health officials report an increase in strokes, and anyone can become a victim.

“Everybody, regardless of age, can get a stroke,” Pitt said. “Strokes are more common the older a person is, but we also have had stroke patients in their 30s and 40s. I think the reason we are seeing more stroke patients nowadays is, first, because people are living longer and, secondly, the average life is quite sedentary, which increases obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, elevated cholesterol, all of which are risk factors for a stroke.”

Stroke types

There are two main types of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic.

“Between 70 and 80 percent of strokes are ischemic, which is acute loss of blood flow to the brain. Ischemic strokes are generally caused by a blood clot or a chunk of plaque buildup that floats around the body and finds its way to the brain,” Pitt said.

“Hemorrhagic is a bleeding type of stroke where a blood vessel bursts.”

Risk factors

People who smoke, have high blood pressure and high cholesterol are among those with the highest risk of having a stroke. Being overweight, suffering from diabetes and having untreated atrial fibrillation also can be contributing factors.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, making the right choices in terms of diet, and exercising regularly will help reduce the chances of experiencing a stroke.

“People should exercise at least 150 minutes each week, and they should think cardiovascular and aerobic,” Pitt said. “A good measurement for an exercise is when you can talk but you can’t sing.”

Eating well

“Eating healthy with a plant-based diet also is very important,” Pitt continued. “A plant-based diet doesn’t mean that you can’t eat meat, but it means that a majority of the diet should be fruits vegetables and whole grains. Meat, especially red meat, increases cholesterol while fruits and vegetables have fiber which sweeps out the cholesterol.”

Reducing sodium intake, maintaining a normal weight (under a 25 body mass index), controlling blood sugars to an A1C level under 6.5, quitting smoking and lowering the blood pressure also are important tools people can use to reduce the risk of a stroke.

Spot the symptoms

Recognizing the symptoms of a stroke and taking immediate action can help tip the scale toward recovery, but not correctly interpreting the signs will usually lead to a negative outcome. The treatment window is brief, only about three hours, so every minute counts.

Some of the signs may be subtle but the acronym B.E.F.A.S.T. can help identify the early stages of a stroke:

  • B – A sudden loss of Balance
  • E – Difficulty with the Eyes, such as a sudden loss of vision or blurred vision
  • F – Facial droop, usually on one side
  • A – Arm drift (does one arm hang or drift down)
  • S – Slurred Speech
  • T – It’s Time to call 9-1-1.

More information on strokes