Avoiding Strokes

To mark Stroke Awareness Month, we invited Cleo Hutton (Striking Back at Stroke: A Doctor-Patient Journal and After a Stroke: 300 Tips for Making Life Easier) to impart some of the wisdom she shares with people who recently have had a stroke.

Striking Back at Stroke is as relevant today as it was when it was written. But there are a few additional facts that should be noted. I am a co-author and stroke survivor, and I just celebrated my 60th birthday. I am rejoicing with my family and friends 17 years post-stroke. My children are grown and my daughters have families of their own. At the end of the book, I take a walk with my 4-year-old granddaughter, a granddaughter who is today 10 years old. Two more grandchildren have been born since the book was written and published. My journal is far from ended.

Stroke will still be a major part of my medical history as it is for hundreds of thousands of others. “Cleo” survived and thrived in spite of difficult circumstances, but “stroke” has not stopped. The incidence of stroke in the United States is still at astronomical figures. Every minute a person has a stroke and every three minutes someone dies of a stroke. What are you doing in your community to prevent stroke?

Know your risk factors. Know your numbers. Learn what your normal blood pressure is and keep the numbers within limits by eating healthy foods and supplementing with medication if prescribed by your physician. Learn your cholesterol numbers to keep plaque from forming in your bloodstream. Keep your heart and vascular system healthy. Exercise daily. You don’t have to spend money to walk around the block or garden or mow the lawn. Just increasing your heart rate slowly and slightly for 15 minutes per day will do a great service for your heart. It’s spring, so if you are overweight, get outside and do an activity that you enjoy. Your heart and brain will thank you.

Hemorrhagic strokes, bleeds within the brain or skull, are the most dangerous type but not the most prevalent. Ischemic strokes, a sudden halt of blood flow to areas within the brain, are the most common type and the type of stroke I had.

Not all strokes can be prevented, so know that pain is not the only warning sign. After 17 years of working closely with stroke centers, neurologists, rehabilitation facilities, peer-to-peer counseling, speaking at conferences and visiting families affected by stroke, I continue to be alarmed at the response of stroke survivors who are able to formulate the sentence, “I didn’t know” or “It didn’t hurt” or “All of a sudden …” All these statements are correct. Ischemic strokes do not hurt, as the brain does not feel pain. Hemorrhagic strokes can be excruciatingly painful as pressure can build up within the skull.

Normally, what brings us to the emergency room is pain. Pain is the way our body tells us something is amiss. But the warning signs of stroke do not involve pain. Our bodies will not shout out, in the usual way, that something is wrong and that we need immediate care. Instead, one side of our body may not respond the way we expect it to, it may become numb or weak, or we may stumble for no apparent reason, or our eyesight may become blocked on one side. These symptoms may last a few seconds to a few minutes. They are painless. But they can be deadly.

If there is stroke in your family history or you have diabetes, make sure your family is aware of the warning signs and signals of stroke. If you suspect stroke, don’t wait. Call 911 or your local emergency number. The faster stroke is diagnosed the faster it can be treated and the shorter the recovery time.

Stroke Awareness Month is near its end, but it’s not too late to help alert your community about stroke. Ask your local hospital for a speaker on stroke awareness for your community club or upcoming event. Request information from the National Stroke Association or the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association and give these vital facts to your neighbors or co-workers. Visit friends, family, relatives, neighbors, and co-workers or church/synagogue members who have had a stroke and extend your hand of friendship and understanding. Make this Stroke Awareness Month your inspiration to spring into action for yourself and your family. Being heart healthy, brain active and body strong are the keys to living a full life.

Thank you to all the readers of Striking Back at Stroke: A Doctor-Patient Journal. It is truly a pleasure to be with you.

—Cleo Hutton

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