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May 2024


May is National Stroke Prevention Month! In the United States, a person has a stroke every 40 seconds. A stroke occurs when the blood flow to the brain is interrupted. This can happen when a clot travels to a blood vessel in the brain or when a blood vessel breaks causing bleeding into the brain. This is like what happens in a person’s heart when they have a heart attack, which is why stroke is also known as a “brain attack.” A stroke deprives the brain of oxygen-rich blood which causes brain cells to die.


There are two types of strokes. Ischemic strokes are caused by a clot that blocks blood flow beyond the point of the clot location. Hemorrhagic strokes are caused by a rupture of the blood vessel causing bleeding into the brain tissue. You may have also heard of an event called a transient ischemic attack, or TIA. This is a temporary blockage causing stroke symptoms that improve on their own. A TIA is an indication of a much greater risk of a person having a stroke in the next 30 days and new research suggests that many TIA events cause brain tissue injury. Fortunately, up to 80% of clot-related strokes may be preventable.


The longer it takes for a stroke event to be recognized the more likely it is that brain injury will occur. That is why the pneumonic FAST was created to help individuals recognize when a stroke may be happening. The letters in FAST represent Facial drooping, Arm weakness, difficulty Speaking, and Time to call 911.


Stroke is the third leading cause of death in women and one in five women will have a stroke in the United States. Among women, black and Hispanic women have the highest prevalence of stroke, primarily due to uncontrolled high blood pressure. Many women have unique risk factors for stroke including during pregnancy and the use of hormonal therapies for birth control or postmenopausal symptoms. Unfortunately, we cannot control our age, sex, or ethnic background, but many stroke risk factors can be controlled or treated.


For men and women, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, being overweight, having low physical activity levels, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, illegal drug use, sleep apnea, smoking, and vaping are all stroke risk factors that are either controllable or treatable. 



Controllable or Treatable risk factors

  • High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a leading risk factor for stroke. Be aware of your blood pressure and have it checked regularly.

  • Smoking and vaping can lead to vessel damage and raise blood pressure, increasing the risk of stroke.

  • Diabetes can cause increased glucose to build up in your blood which, in turn, can cause damage to the blood vessels, more than doubling your stroke risk.

  • Elevated blood cholesterol increases the risk of blocked arteries. A blocked artery in the brain can cause a stroke.

  • Physical inactivity often leads to being overweight or obese and both factors increase your risk of stroke. Aim to stay physically active and manage your weight.

  • Excessive alcohol intake is drinking an average of more than one alcoholic beverage a day for women or two for men. Excessive alcohol use can lead to obesity and hypertension which increases your risk of stroke. Similarly, many illegal drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines, and heroin are associated with an increased risk of stroke.

  • Sleep apnea increases the risk of stroke because this form of disordered breathing tends to create an increased risk of heart arrhythmias, such as atrial fibrillation, and an inability to adequately control high blood pressure.

A special word about the brain event called transient ischemic attack (TIA). Recent research shows that even though a TIA produces no lasting symptoms there is evidence that a lack of blood flow has left its mark on the brain, so TIAs are now considered a form of stroke.



Prevention is key

The primary care providers at Block Island Health Services will be happy to talk to you about your stroke risks and work with you to reduce them. If you have already had a stroke or TIA, we can help you create a plan to prevent another brain event. Call us today at 401-466-2974 to schedule an appointment.


     Laurie Anderson, APRN-C, CDOE