Stroke: Understanding the Statistics
Stroke is not only a common cause of death and disability in America, it is also the leading cause of loss of independence in adults. With 700,000 strokes reported each year, it is not surprising that there are over 4.4 million stroke survivors in the United States. Many of these survivors require intensive stroke rehabilitation. But there is hope for prevention. Altering unhealthy lifestyle habits and controlling medical conditions associated with strokes can drastically lower the risk of having a stroke.
Emergency Stroke Treatment
If more patients sought treatment immediately, stroke might not be the third leading cause of death in the United States. This is because the timing of treatment significantly impacts the amount of disability caused by a stroke. Treatment administered within hours of the onset of a stroke is more likely to limit brain damage caused by tissue death. Unfortunately, however, many people do not seek treatment right away. Instead they choose to delay getting medical attention in hopes that the symptoms will improve on their own. When a stroke is occurring, however, every hour without treatment is likely to mean increased cell death leading to increased disability. This delay between stroke onset and treatment results in unnecessary death and disability.
Stroke Treatment Facilities
Primary Stroke Prevention
Primary stroke prevention focuses on altering lifestyle and controlling medical conditions before a stroke develops. By changing factors that may cause a stroke, primary prevention can drastically reduce the risk of developing the condition. There is an additional benefit: primary stroke prevention strategies not only lower the risk of stroke, but also decrease the chances of developing other illnesses, such as cancer and heart disease.
High Blood Pressure, Cholesterol, and Stroke Prevention
As part of any successful prevention plan, medical conditions that increase stroke risk should be carefully controlled. For instance, blood pressure and cholesterol should be monitored regularly and treated when necessary, since these two factors profoundly affect stroke risk. High blood pressure (hypertension) increases the risk of stroke because the constant pressure weakens arterial walls. In this manner, hypertension contributes directly to hardening the arteries, or atherosclerosis.
High cholesterol levels related to diet, smoking, or genetic factors also contribute to the development of atherosclerosis through the deposition of cholesterol plaques in the blood vessels. Since hypertension and hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol) are two common risk factors for stroke, medication and treatment that control high blood pressure or high cholesterol can be used to lower the risk of stroke. Remember: prevention is better than rehabilitation.
More information on high blood pressure, cholesterol, and other medical risk factors for strokes can be found on the Heath Risks page. Specific information on cholesterol levels and high blood pressure can be found on the following websites:
Stroke Prevention and Lifestyle: Smoking and Diet
Lifestyle changes are usually necessary for effective stroke prevention. For smokers, quitting smoking is the best way to lower the risk of stroke. Quitting smoking will not only lower the risk of stroke, but will also reduce the likelihood of developing other major illnesses, such as cancer and heart disease. Other lifestyle modifications, including adopting a healthier diet, increasing exercise, and decreasing alcohol consumption have positive stroke prevention effects as well.
Stroke Rehabilitation and Secondary Stroke Prevention
After a stroke, survivors are often left with severe disabilities that require intensive stroke rehabilitation. Stroke rehabilitation allows stroke survivors to maintain existing abilities, relearn lost skills, and develop strategies for living with stroke damage.
When primary stroke prevention fails, stroke survivors can reduce their risk of future strokes by practicing secondary stroke prevention. Like primary prevention, secondary prevention focuses on managing high blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and other risk factors. In addition, secondary stroke prevention may include medication or surgery to lower the chance of further strokes.