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Stroke prevention can start at any age

This month, workers in the medical field are encouraging the young and old to think about their heart’s health.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month. Stroke occurs when a blood vessel feeding the brain bursts or becomes clogged, restricting oxygen and blood to the area and consequently killing brain cells, according to the American Heart Association. If not treated immediately, the activity can cause permanent disabilities or death.

Stroke is the number one cause of disabilities in U.S. adults and third-leading cause of death in the United States, according to www.americanheart.org.

But increasing awareness of the controllable and uncontrollable factors that put one at risk for stroke can help prevent the disease. Eighty percent of strokes are preventable, said Franciscan Health System registered nurse Gena Kreiner.

“If we can treat them, that’s OK, but we feel so much better when we can prevent them,” she said.

Risk factors

If heart disease runs in one’s family, this automatically increases a person’s risk for suffering a stroke.

Men are more commonly affected by the disease, but women are more likely to die from it, Kreiner said.

Pregnancy and the use of birth control pills increase women’s risk of stroke, according to the American Heart Association.

Adults over the age of 55 also face a higher risk. This doubles each decade lived past age 55, according to the heart association’s Web site.

High blood pressure, smoking, poor diet and alcohol and drug use all increase one’s likelihood of experiencing a stroke. Smoking and a poor diet are also manageable factors that increase the chances of stroke.

“High blood pressure is a huge huge one,” Kreiner said. “That’s probably the one we see most.”

A common thought is strokes tend to only affect the elderly, but they can occur in people of all ages, Kreiner said. An emerging population of stroke sufferers includes those who abuse cocaine and methamphetamine, she said. Only half of those affected in this population will survive, Kreiner said.

“We are seeing very young people who are methamphetamine users having hemorrhagic strokes,” Kreiner said.

Medical attention:

Sometimes prevention comes too late. Many people are unaware of the symptoms of a stroke, such as numbness of the face or body, and neglect to seek immediate medical attention, Kreiner said.

“Most people don’t even know what a sign or symptom is,” she said.

Loss of movement in one’s limbs or the ability to speak clearly can result from a stroke.

St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way is currently offering its HeartAware assessment. This seven-minute online test helps participants gauge their risk of stroke. Additionally, come fall, the hospital will introduce its Code Neuro program. A team will be waiting to begin immediate evaluation of stroke patients who arrive by ambulance, Kreiner said. Patients treated within three hours of the stroke have the highest predictions for full recovery, she said.

“The longer they wait, the more damage that is done,” Kreiner said. “That’s why we say ‘time is brain’ in these situations.”

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

Learn more about stroke:

• Visit the American Heart Association’s Web site at www.americanheart.org.

• Visit the National Stroke Association Web site at www.stroke.org.

•?Visit the Franciscan Health System Web site at http://fhspublicweb/healthnew/adult/cardiac/stroke.htm.

• Take the HeartAware assessment online at www.FHShealth.org.

Stroke symptoms:

• Sudden numbness, tingling or weakness, usually on only one side of the face or body

• Drooping of the face

• Sudden inability to speak clearly

• Unexpected loss of balance

• Blurred vision

• Persistent headache

All symptoms provided by Franciscan Health System registered nurse Gena Kreiner.

Condition is the top cause of disabilities in American adults

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