During American Stroke Month in May, the American Stroke Association is encouraging Mainers to join together to end one of the leading causes of death and preventable disability in the state and in the U.S. Despite claiming more than 133,000 lives annually and being a leading cause of serious, long-term disability in the U.S., stroke is largely preventable and treatable.
What many people don’t know is that women face a higher risk of stroke. About 55,000 more women than men die each year of stroke in the U.S. These three Maine women shared their stories with a goal to raise awareness of this important health issue.
Amy Bergeron of Biddeford was in college when she suffered a stroke. “I was 19 years old and awoke drooling, with my face drooping, arms numb and unable to speak. I had a bad headache the night before. I knew something was off, but I had no idea it was a stroke. My stroke ended up being the best and worst thing to happen to me, making me stronger than I ever thought I could be.”
Faith Brackett of Stillwater is a congenital heart disease survivor who has endured eight open-heart surgeries. “When I was younger, I suffered a post-operative stroke which affected two parts of my brain. I lost all movement on the right side of my body, but because of supportive medical care, quick intervention, and physical therapy, I was able to regain full function. I’m forever grateful for the medical advancements that have been part of making me who I am today.”
Tamara Osgood of Eddington had some early warning signs prior of her stroke, but didn’t recognize them. “About a month before my stroke, my arm felt heavy, I had tingling in my face and trouble concentrating. Not thinking it was an emergency, I was not able to receive a clot-busting drug because too much time had passed since the onset of my symptoms. Remember that not all disabilities from stroke can be visibly seen. I look fine on the outside but have trouble concentrating, get fatigued, and my hand feels clumsy. I also am anxious about having another stroke.”
Starting 20 years ago with the American Stroke Association’s inception as a division of the American Heart Association, advancements have revolutionized the field of stroke prevention and treatment. As many as 80 percent of strokes are preventable. And, while one in 4 stroke survivors have a second stroke, the good news is that second strokes are also largely preventable with a healthy lifestyle. Most people who have a stroke have high blood pressure, so it’s incredibly important for everyone to know their numbers and keep them under control to help prevent a stroke.
Association guidelines released in 2017 called for earlier intervention for high blood pressure to avoid its devastating, life-alerting consequences. The new definition of high blood pressure is a systolic pressure, or top number, of 130 or higher, or diastolic pressure of 80 or higher. The data show that the risk for heart attack, stroke and other consequences of high blood pressure begins to occur at any level above 120 mmHg. In fact, risk doubles at 130 compared to levels below 120. When blood pressure rises above 120 systolic, even while diastolic remains below 80, blood pressure is considered “elevated” and a patient would be advised to take action with lifestyle changes. Under the updated guidelines, nearly half of all adults in the U.S. have high blood pressure. However, nearly one in six American adults who have high blood pressure don’t know it, according to the Association.
The Association also recommends making small, simple changes, like exercising regularly and limiting sodium intake, both which can help lower blood pressure. Try limiting sodium to 1,500 mg/daily by reducing processed or pre-packaged foods—the leading source of dietary sodium–and reading labels to help identify lower-sodium products. Meditation and exercise—even yoga—can help you lower stress. And keep alcohol intake to one serving per day for women, and two for men. And if you don’t drink, don’t start.
Awareness is also key when it comes to stroke treatment. For many strokes, the right treatment right away can save lives and improve recovery so it’s important to get help immediately. The Association’s Together to End Stroke™ initiative teaches the acronym F.A.S.T. to help people to recognize the most common stroke warning signs and what to do if one occurs:
- F – Face Drooping: Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile.
- A – Arm Weakness: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
- S – Speech Difficulty: Is speech slurred, are they unable to speak, or are they hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence like, “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?
- T – Time to call 911: If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 911 and get them to the hospital immediately.
Calling 911 is the fastest proven way to access treatment because hospitals are set up to treat stroke patients arriving by ambulance. Stroke patients who receive the clot-busting drug alteplase (also known as tPA) within 90 minutes of symptom onset are almost 3 x more likely to recover with little or no disability. Under new guidelines, more stroke patients may be eligible to receive alteplase (also known as tPA) to decrease disability, if given promptly. New stroke guidelines have increased the timeframe for patients to qualify for treatment using a clot-removal device to recover with little or no disability. However, urgency is still required during a stroke event and acting F.A.S.T. will make a difference in someone’s quality of life.
For more information about stroke or American Stroke Month, follow #StrokeMonth on social media or visit StrokeAssociation.org/StrokeMonth.