More than Half of Americans Don’t Know If They Are at Risk for Stroke

Inability to identify risks, signs of stroke can threaten a person’s chances to get fast care

DAYTON, Ohio (September 15, 2014) – Every year, about 15 million people worldwide have strokes. One third of those individuals will die, while another third will be left permanently disabled, according to the World Heart Federation   (WHF).

Despite the prevalence and potential severity of stroke, many Americans still don’t know the risk factors or signs of a stroke. About one third of Americans are unable to recall the warning signs of a stroke, according to the American Heart Association  (AHA); Nearly 60 percent of Americans don’t know if they are at risk for the disease, the American Stroke Association  (ASA) said.

Twenty-five years ago, National Stroke Awareness Month was launched in an effort to educate the public about stroke and, in turn, reducing the mortality rate. Jacob Kitchener, MD, a neurologist with the Clinical Neuroscience Institute said awareness campaigns have helped, but there is still much work that needs to be done to ensure people receive the best care possible.

“I think in the past decade people have become more aware of the signs of a stroke,” Dr. Kitchener said. “We are seeing patients coming into the ER quickly, but there is still a percentage of people out there who don’t realize if they or a loved one are having a stroke, so they don’t get the proper help in the optimal time.”

A stroke occurs when there is a disruption to the normal blood flow or supply patterns to the brain. There are two main types of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic. An ischemic stroke is the most common, occurring when blood clots and creates blockage in the vessels in the brain. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a weakened vessel ruptures and bleeds into areas of the brain. The sooner a stroke victim arrives at the hospital after the onset of symptoms, the greater the likelihood that certain early-onset treatments can be used. Medications known as clot buster drugs, for example, must be used within three to four and a half hours of a stroke’s onset.

“It’s important that we see patients as soon as possible or within hours of their first symptom. Often times we have patients who come 12 hours after their symptoms start, and it is too late to begin any type of acute treatment,” said Dr. Kitchener, who is part of Premier Health Specialists’Clinical Neuroscience Institute’s stroke team and the stroke medical director for all Premier hospitals. “Strokes that are caused through hemorrhaging must be addressed immediately because the blood can accumulate or spread within the brain.”

Jonhson HSThe main symptoms of a stroke include sudden drooping or numbness on one side of the face, weakness or numbness in one arm, and difficulty with speech – this can range from the inability to talk to difficulty forming thoughts. But there are also non-specific symptoms, according to Aleda Johnson, MD, at Liberty Family Medicine in Liberty Township.

“These would include a severe headache or dizziness, or maybe some kind of visual disturbance such as the inability to see your entire visual field,” Dr. Johnson said. “A headache is one of those symptoms that can be hard to identify since headaches can be so common. Still, people should always seek help if they have any doubt as to whether it is a stroke or not.”

Knowing the risk factors for stroke is vital so that those conditions can be controlled and potentially prevent a stroke altogether. Risk factors can be divided up into modifiable (those that can be treated and controlled) and non-modifiable (those that are inherited and uncontrollable), Dr. Johnson said.

The number one modifiable risk factor for stroke is high blood pressure, or hypertension. According to the ASA, people who have high blood pressure are one and a half times more likely to have stroke than those who have normal blood pressure. Other modifiable risk factors include: smoking, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes and illicit drug use. Non-modifiable risk factors include those over 55 years of age, male sex, non-white race and family history, Dr. Johnson said.

“Prevention is the best defense,” Dr. Johnson said. “There are many risk factors individuals have no control over. You can’t control your age or ethnicity. However, there is much that can be control. The sooner people know their risks, the quicker they can make changes in their lifestyle and health care in order to prevent a stroke from taking place. Thankfully, we live in a time where resources help make this a possibility.”

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