Question of the Week

February 26, 2008


Strokes are often thought of as something that affects those who are in their 60s, 70s, or 80s, but people of every age range can suffer strokes, and the rates among women in their 30s - 50s are on the rise.

" 'Women ages 35 to 54 have higher stroke rates than men of those ages, and this is likely due to increasing rates of abdominal obesity,' says researcher Amytis Towfighi, MD, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. The study does not prove cause-and-effect. But the researchers found that traditional risk factors for stroke, such as smoking and high blood pressure, are not increasing among middle-aged women. That gives weight to their hefty hypothesis, says Ralph Sacco, MD."

The hypothesis is that with increased weight is coming an increased risk of stroke. Doctors are observing that as waist sizes and Body Mass Index (BMI) numbers rise, so is the stroke rate among women who are younger and younger.

Why is this a concern? While most people have heard of a stroke, or may even know someone who has had one, not everyone understands what it is.

"A stroke, or 'brain attack,' occurs when blood circulation to the brain fails. Brain cells can die from decreased blood flow and the resulting lack of oxygen. There are two broad categories of stroke: those caused by a blockage of blood flow and those caused by bleeding. While not usually fatal, a blockage of a blood vessel in the brain or neck, called an ischemic stroke, is the most frequent cause of stroke and is responsible for about 80 percent of strokes."

Teens and young adults may not be concerned about their stroke risk right now, but there are lifestyle choices that people of all ages can make to reduce their risk. Whether someone is in their teens, thirties, or sixties, it is important that they talk with their doctor about any risk factors and/or lifestyle changes that should be made.

"All people can take steps to lower their risk for stroke, whether they have had a stroke or not. Things you can do to lower the risk of stroke include steps to prevent and control high blood pressure, heart disease, and other chronic conditions.

  • Prevent and control high blood pressure: High blood pressure is easily checked. It can be controlled with lifestyle changes and with medicines when needed. ...
  • Prevent and control diabetes: People with diabetes have a higher risk of stroke, but they can also work to reduce their risk. ...
  • No tobacco: Smoking can affect a number of things that relate to risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. ...
  • Treat atrial fibrillation: Atrial fibrillation is an irregular beating of the heart. It can cause clots that can lead to stroke. ...
  • Prevent and control high blood cholesterol: High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease, which can increase the risk for stroke. ...
  • Moderate alcohol use: Excessive alcohol use can increase the risk of high blood pressure. People who drink should do so in moderation. ...
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Healthy weight status in adults is usually assessed by using weight and height to compute a number called the 'body mass index' (BMI). ...
  • Regular Physical Activity: The Surgeon General recommends that adults should engage in moderate level physical activities for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. ...
  • Diet and nutrition: Along with healthy weight and regular physical activity, an overall healthy diet can help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. ...
  • Genetic Risk Factors: Stroke can run in families. Genes play a role in stroke risk factors such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and vascular conditions. ...."

While prevention is key, not all strokes will be prevented. When a stroke does occur, it is essential that those around know what the signs of a stroke are so that they can get medical attention as soon as possible.

"Someone affected by stroke might have difficulty speaking, lose the ability to lift their arms or walk, have difficulty seeing in one or both eyes, experience numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, and can quickly lose consciousness. Quick action and medical attention can minimize permanent brain damage and potentially save someones life."

The signs of someone having a stroke can range from subtle to obvious, but the person having the stroke can be completely unaware that anything is wrong. Whether minor or severe, every minute counts. The sooner a patient receives treatment for a stroke, the more likely they are to reduce the amount of long-term damage that it is allowed to do.

"Stroke is a medical emergency. Every minute counts when someone is having a stroke. The longer blood flow is cut off to the brain, the greater the damage. Immediate treatment can save people's lives and enhance their chances for successful recovery. ... Ischemic strokes, the most common type of strokes, can be treated with a drug called t-PA, that dissolves blood clots obstructing blood flow to the brain. The window of opportunity to start treating stroke patients is three hours, but to be evaluated and receive treatment, patients need to get to the hospital within 60 minutes. ... A five-year study by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) found that some stroke patients who received t-PA within three hours of the start of stroke symptoms were at least 30 percent more likely to recover with little or no disability after three months."

Questions of the Week:
What should you and your peers know about what a stroke is and what your risk factors are? In what ways might this vary from what your parents or grandparents need to know? In what ways is it is the same? Why is it important for people of all ages to make lifestyle choices that can reduce their risk of having a stroke? Why is it important that people of all ages and levels of health know how to detect when someone else is having a stroke? How would you educate your peers and family members about what they need to know about strokes?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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