An hour before I saw her in coma at the ICU, 56-year old Cora was tending her backyard garden. "I found her unconscious on the ground", her distraught husband told me. He disclosed that Cora had hypertension which she managed with antihypertensive medications, but was otherwise an active woman who was the president of the local gardening club. "Now, she might never wake up", he said tearfully.
Cora had a stroke. And she's only one of 15 million people worldwide who do so every year, according to the World Health Organization. Based on the latest statistics published by the American Heart Association, one American every 40 seconds suffers from stroke. It's not surprising then that stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States with over 143,579 people dying from it annually. Stroke is also the top cause of serious and long-term disability among Americans.
Stroke is defined as a sudden disturbance in the blood supply to any part of the brain. It can be caused by:
1. a plug of fat or blood clot that narrows a blood vessel in the brain
2. the leakage of blood into vital brain tissues due to a rupture of an artery
These conditions result to a lack of blood supply to the affected brain section, leading to the victim's paralysis, inability to understand, talk, or see. In severe cases, stroke puts a patient in a comatose state like in Cora's case especially if it's the second or third attack. Sometimes, it can also lead to immediate death.
Stroke can happen to anyone at any age but it does have higher occurrence to people 65 years old and above. However, the other risk factors can be modified to stop stroke.
Here are the 8 E's of stroke prevention:
1. Eat Healthy. A diet that is low in fat and rich in vegetables, fruits, and other high-fiber foods can prevent excess weight and high blood pressure, two of the major risk factors of stroke.
2. Exercise. Having an infrequent intense exercise such as a weekend three-hour run is not recommended. A regular light to moderate exercise can have more health benefits such as 30 minutes to 1 hour of walking, jogging, or aerobics every day or three times a week.
3. Eliminate Excess Weight. Overweight individuals have more fats in their bodies and therefore, they are more predisposed to developing fat deposits on the walls of their blood vessels. These fatty plaques later block or narrow the arteries which lead to stroke.
4. Eradicate the Nicotine. Nicotine causes hardening and narrowing of the blood vessels which lead to high blood pressure. Studies show people who smoke over a pack of cigarettes a day have three times as many strokes than non-smokers. So, quit smoking.
5. Escape for the Weekend. In susceptible individuals, stress triggers stroke by raising blood pressure, among other reasons. Set aside enough time every week to relax. Practice relaxation techniques every day. Do not work beyond your capacity.
6. Entertain Only Positive Thoughts. Harboring grudges, routinely expecting the worst, and always looking at the negative aspects of things can stress you unnecessarily. Discard negativities, keep only positive thoughts, and learn to forgive.
7. Ensure Regular Blood Pressure Check-Ups. High blood pressure may put a strain on blood vessel walls which may rupture the blood vessel and result to stroke. Have your blood pressure measured on a regular basis especially if you're above 50 years old.
8. Early Symptoms Recognition. Stroke was traditionally believed to occur without warning. But the Stroke Foundation in New York City found out that a major stroke does have warning signs. These are temporary numbness or weakness on your arm or leg, blurry vision, and slurring of words when talking or inability to understand what other people are saying. If you notice these signs, consult your doctor immediately.