The term ‘stroke’ strikes fear into many. A stroke’s ultimate result is death, but it’s wrath is definitely felt by those that survive. Disability from the loss of speech, movement or memory impairment can be devastating. But according to Salvador Cruz-Flores, M.D., MPH, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso Chairman for the Department of Neurology, strokes can be treated and more importantly, prevented.
“Stroke is a dysfunction of an area of the brain or spinal cord that results from damage to those areas caused by a blockage or rupture of a blood vessel that leads to sudden onset of symptoms such as paralysis, speech impairment, visual loss, loss of coordination, or loss of sensation, among others,” said Dr. Cruz-Flores.
According to Dr. Cruz-Flores, those most likely to have a stroke are those who have had a prior stroke. “Your odds increase dramatically,” he said. “Prevention is key. Keeping a healthy diet, exercising, avoiding behaviors such as smoking and controlling diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are vital to avoiding a stroke.” As has been said “the only good stroke is the stroke that never happens.”
What determines if someone is in danger of having a stroke? “Ultimately, it comes down to genetics – which we are still working on trying to understand – as well as vascular risk factors” he said. “Risk factors are behavioral or biological factors that increase our risk for stroke or heart attack and include behaviors or medical conditions such as smoking, obesity, diabetes mellitus, hypertension and high cholesterol. The presence of an irregular heath rhythm called atrial fibrillation also places you at a higher risk.”
Besides the risk factors mentioned, in women there are other factors such as the use of hormones according to Dr. Cruz-Flores.
Strokes also affect Hispanics differently. “Because Hispanics are an increasing population in the U.S., the number of cases will increase in a few years — the trend is already present. This is due to the higher burden of risk factors, in particular diabetes, among Hispanics,” said Dr. Cruz-Flores. “Hispanics do not have worse outcomes compared to other racial or ethnic groups, but given their social situation, which may include lack of acculturation, undocumented status and language barriers, this may limit how they seek medical attention.”
At TTUHSC El Paso, Dr. Cruz-Flores said studies are getting off the ground as part of larger clinical trials, testing medications for stroke prevention and treatment. “My hope is that we will be able to establish population-based studies to find more answers as to the determinants of disease risk factors and potential interventions to address the disparities in stroke care.”
So how do you know if you or someone else is having a stroke? Dr. Cruz-Flores says to follow these steps:
· Check if the face is drooping or is numb. Ask the person to smile and check if it is uneven.
· Does the person have weakness in his or her arm – or is it numb? Ask the person to raise both arms and check to see if one arm is sinking downward.
· Is the person having difficulty speaking? Is the person slurring words or is his or her speech difficult to understand?
· If any of these symptoms are present, call 9-1-1 immediately and get the person to the hospital. Make sure to record the time the onset of when the symptoms appeared.
“The sooner the person receives medical attention may limit the severity of the damage caused by the stroke,” Cruz-Flores concluded.