Strokes kill almost 130,000 Americans every year – making them the fifth highest cause of death in the United States, according to the CDC(1).
Even those who suffer non-fatal strokes (roughly 795,000 Americans suffer some form of stroke each year) may face long-term health consequences due to the destructive impact that a stroke can have on the brain.
Strokes And Brain Damage
The damage caused by strokes is, in most cases, irrevocable – meaning it cannot be repaired. Of the different kinds of strokes, by far the most common is ischemic strokes – these make up about 87% of all strokes – which occur when blood clots stop the flow of the blood to the brain, causing cells to die. The death of these cells can leave entire parts of the brain collapsed.
While many strokes aren’t necessarily fatal, it’s easy to see how the damage to the brain can give rise to all the classic stroke symptoms – from numbness, loss of hearing and vision, and immobility, to speech and cognitive problems.
Who Is At Risk For Stroke?
While strokes can happen at any time to anyone, there are certain factors that put some individuals at higher risk than others.
Drug users who regularly use intravenous drugs and stimulants such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine are at a much higher risk for ischemic stroke than those who refrain from drug use(2). Stimulants like these drugs can lead to stroke by inducing hypertension and other vascular toxicity.
The missing area of the brain in the image below is an infarct (an area of dead tissue). Though this stroke survivor died of other causes, it’s possible to see that the damage to the brain may have given rise to the classic symptoms of a stroke: immobility, inability to feel, loss of vision, loss of hearing, and speech and cognitive problems.
Managing Stroke Risk
Changes in standards of treatment for patients with diabetes, hypertension, and previous stroke or transient ischemic attack have led to a decreased rate in strokes in recent years, leading researchers to believe that many strokes are, in fact, preventable(3).
A recent article outlines several areas important to risk management when it comes to preventing ischemic strokes: hypertension – “one of the most important modifiable risk factors for prevention of a first stroke” – high blood pressure, diabetes, dyslipidemia, atrial fibrillation, and other cardiac conditions are all factors which can be managed to reduce the risk of stroke.
Lifestyle factors, like cigarette smoking (“a well-recognized and modifiable risk factor for ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke”), alcohol and drug abuse, and diet and exercise all play a roll as well(4).
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and managing any chronic health conditions you may have is key to preventing stroke – and by extension, the devastating effects a stroke can have on your long-term quality of life.
Many stroke patients struggle to regain their mobility, motor skills, and language skills in the wake of a major stroke – but there are steps you can take to make sure that your risk is as low as possible.