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Published on May 29, 2018

stroke risk meter

#TryItTuesday: Am I at Risk for Stroke?

When I was an office nurse, one of my tasks was reviewing family history with our patients. I remember always counting my blessings, except for my dad having asthma, we had a healthy family tree.

However, in the last year, unfortunately, that has changed. In 2017, my dad and mom both had strokes. Thankfully they all survived with minimal side effects.

When my dad experienced his stroke symptoms, he had was fortunate enough to seek medical care quickly and received appropriate treatment.

With permission, I’m sharing my mother’s story in the hopes that it will bring awareness to how sometimes a stroke may present itself uniquely and how crucial it is for each one of us to listen to our bodies.

Just Stomach Flu?

Shortly before Christmas, my mom woke up during the night feeling like she needed to vomit. She remembers thinking, “Oh, no, I’m going to be sick.”

Thinking she had the stomach flu, she got up to go to the bathroom. She made it to the bathroom doorway, where she experienced the most horrific pain in her head. That is when everything gave out, and she fell to the floor.

Around 7:30 a.m., she woke up frantic that she overslept, and then she realized that she had passed out on the floor. She pulled herself up along the doorway.

My nephew lives with my mom, and she was worried about getting him up for school, so holding on to the railway she made it down the basement steps to wake him up. She remembers telling him, “You need to get up for school as I don’t feel good and I don’t think I have the energy to make it back down here again if you fall back to sleep.”

My mom then went back upstairs and called my niece to tell her what had happened. While waiting for my niece, my mom fell back asleep on the couch. Once my niece arrived, she called my mother’s doctor, who informed them to go to the local hospital immediately.

At the hospital, they examined my mom and since her symptoms came on in atypical ways, and she was low risk for a stroke, it was presumed that she had the stomach virus or perhaps a migraine. She was sent home to rest.

The next day, my mom continued to feel off. With her facial numbness and leg weakness continuing, she went back to the hospital for additional medical testing. The testing confirmed that my mom had suffered a stroke.

My mother is one of the strongest women I’ve ever met, and all of us were surprised when we learned that she had a stroke. At the time, except for being female, my mom had none of the typical risk factors for a stroke. Her blood pressure, cholesterol and other cardiac risk-factors were nonexistent.

She has no other medical conditions. She is of perfect weight. She is extremely active, working a full-time-plus job. She doesn’t drink nor has ever smoked.

Thankfully, my mom listened to her body and went back to the hospital for further testing.

Did You Know?

  • Every 40 seconds someone in the U.S. has a stroke and around 800,000 people will have a stroke in the United States this year alone.
  • Stroke is the third-leading cause of death for women (In comparison, stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death for men).
  • Each year stroke kills twice as many women as breast cancer.
  • Ninety percent of the strokes globally are caused by 10 modifiable risk factors.

Since I recently reached age 50, and with my parents' experiences with strokes, I began to wonder if am I at an increased risk for a stroke.

It turns out that I am. The good news is that while my family history does increase my risk slightly, it’s the other stroke risks that pose a higher threat. With some simple lifestyle changes, I can significantly decrease my risk of having a stroke.

The month of May marks National Stroke Awareness Month, and this year the National Stroke Association is turning the spotlight on the modifiable risk factors. This list shows much stroke risk can be reduced if each factor were eliminated:

  • Hypertension 47.9 percent
  • Physical inactivity 35.8 percent
  • Lipids (blood fats) 26.8 percent
  • Poor diet 23.2 percent
  • Obesity 18.6 percent
  • Smoking 12.4 percent
  • Heart causes 9.1 percent
  • Alcohol intake 5.8 percent
  • Stress 5.8 percent
  • Diabetes 3.9 percent

Beyond reducing my risk of stroke, knowing the signs and symptoms of a stroke are equally important.

Stroke Symptoms

Knowing the signs of stroke - quite simply - can save lives. There are many resources available, and this list may make a difference in your life or the lives of people you care about.

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden difficulty walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause

Women may report symptoms that are different from the typical symptoms. They can include:

  • Loss of consciousness or fainting
  • General weakness
  • Difficulty or shortness of breath
  • Confusion, unresponsiveness or disorientation
  • Sudden behavioral change
  • Agitation
  • Hallucination
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain
  • Seizures
  • Hiccups

Unique symptoms often create a problem, as they are often not recognized as a stroke symptom and treatment is often delayed. (Such as the situation with my mom.) If someone develops any of these symptoms, call 911 or emergency medical services immediately. It can happen to anyone - including you.

We are very fortunate that my mom was in good health when she had her stroke, as her outcome could have been so different. Today, my mom is back to working full time and actively involved in her children and grandchildren’s lives.

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