When it comes to stroke, every minute counts. This life-threatening condition occurs when blood flow to part of the brain is disrupted, either due to a blockage or a ruptured blood vessel. The symptoms of stroke vary depending on the type, severity, and location. The two most common types are right-sided stroke and left-sided stroke. Regardless of which side is affected, prompt recognition and immediate medical attention are crucial.
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Recognizing Symptoms of Stroke
The American Stroke Association has devised an easy-to-remember acronym, F.A.S.T., to help educate the public about stroke warning signs:
- Facial drooping on one side of the face, which may include numbness or an uneven smile.
- Arm weakness or numbness, often accompanied by the affected arm drifting down when outstretched.
- Speech difficulties, such as slurring or garbled speech.
- Time to call 911. Getting to a stroke center for immediate treatment can significantly reduce the impact of a stroke.
In addition to the F.A.S.T symptoms, other signs of stroke include numbness on one side of the body, confusion, trouble seeing, difficulty walking or maintaining balance, severe headache with no known cause, and more. It is important to note that the area of the brain where the stroke occurs can determine the long-term effects. Surprisingly, strokes that happen on one side of the brain can lead to neurological complications on the opposite side of the body.
The brain’s largest portion, known as the cerebral cortex, consists of two hemispheres: the right and the left. A right-sided stroke occurs when the stroke affects the right hemisphere of the brain. The effects of this type of stroke may include weakness or paralysis on the left side of the body, sensory issues such as numbness or pain, vision problems including loss of vision in the left field of each eye, difficulties with balance, hearing impairments, memory problems, and changes in behavior.
In contrast, a left-sided stroke occurs when the left hemisphere of the brain is affected. Studies have shown that left-sided strokes may be more easily recognized than right-sided strokes. The effects of a left-sided stroke may include weakness or paralysis on the right side of the body, speech or language difficulties, behavioral changes, memory loss, visual disturbances, impaired reasoning skills, and emotional distress.
Risk Factors for Stroke
Certain factors increase the risk of stroke, and while some of them can be mitigated through lifestyle changes, others cannot. It is essential to be aware of the following risk factors:
- Age: Although anyone can have a stroke, the risk increases with age.
- Family history: A family history of stroke increases the risk.
- Race: African Americans are at a greater risk of stroke compared to Caucasians.
- Gender: Stroke is more prevalent and deadlier in women than in men.
- Previous stroke: Having experienced a stroke in the past significantly increases the risk of another stroke.
- TIAs: Transient ischemic attacks, or mini-strokes, act as warning signs and increase the risk of stroke.
- Previous heart attack: Plaque buildup in the arteries can lead to both heart attacks and strokes.
- Smoking: Current smokers face a higher risk of stroke compared to never-smokers.
- Diabetes: Type 1 or type 2 diabetes increases the risk of stroke.
- Poor diet: Diets high in saturated fats and cholesterol can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, and high blood cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of stroke.
- Physical inactivity: Being inactive increases the risk of stroke and other health conditions. Aim for at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week.
- Carotid artery disease: Plaque buildup in the carotid arteries raises the risk of stroke.
- Sickle cell disease: SCD raises the risk of stroke, particularly in children.
- Geographical location: Living in the “stroke belt” of southeastern states increases the likelihood of suffering a stroke.
- Alcohol or drug abuse: Both are associated with an increased risk of stroke.
Recovery from Stroke
Whether it is a right-sided or left-sided stroke, stroke victims require rehabilitation to regain strength and capability. The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association recommends initial rehabilitation in an inpatient rehabilitation facility, where patients receive three hours of therapy, five days a week, along with frequent physician visits and round-the-clock nursing care.
The rehabilitation process may include physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy, tailored to the specific needs of the patient. Other aspects, such as pain management and emotional support, may also be incorporated into the rehabilitation program.
Remember, the content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not replace professional medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns about stroke or its treatment, consult with your healthcare provider.