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Did you know that strokes are the leading cause of long-term disability in the United States? More than heart attacks. More than cancer. More than back injuries.

Over 7 million stroke survivors are living in the U.S, and two-thirds of them are currently disabled.

Think that strokes are something that only happens to seniors? The fact is that strokes can happen to anyone at any age, and often do. Nearly one-quarter of strokes occur in people that are under age 65.

Stroke facts

The Stroke Awareness Foundation provides some interesting numbers and insights into strokes:

  • About 795,000 people in the United States suffer a stroke each year
  • Someone has a stroke every 40 seconds
  • Every 4 minutes, someone dies from a stroke
  • 40% of stroke deaths occur in males, and 60% occur in females
  • Around 25% of people who recover from their first stroke will have another within five years
  • Ischemic strokes represent about 87% of all strokes
  • In one second, 32,000 brain cells die, and in 59 seconds, an ischemic stroke will have killed 1.9 million brain cells

There are two main types of strokes to know:

  • Ischemic stroke — When a blood vessel becomes blocked, usually caused by a blood clot, depriving a portion of the brain of oxygen.
  • Hemorrhagic stroke — When an aneurysm, a blood-filled pouch that balloons out from an artery, ruptures. This surrounds the tissue with blood. The fatality rate from hemorrhagic strokes is higher than ischemic strokes, and the prognosis is poorer.

How to prevent strokes

Finally, a piece of good news — 80% of strokes are preventable. There are plenty of realistic lifestyle changes that you can make to lessen your chance of having a stroke.

Let’s identify four risk factors that you have control over:

  1. Lack of exercise
  2. Poor diet
  3. Smoking
  4. Consuming more than two alcoholic drinks per day

There are also many other risk factors for stroke that, in some cases, you can’t control. These include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Narrowed arteries
  • Diabetes
  • Arrhythmia or AFIB
  • Previous stroke or transient ischemic attack
  • Being over age 65
  • Family history of stroke

Having three or more of these risk factors, controllable or uncontrollable, multiplies your risk of suffering a stroke. A doctor should be consulted if you have, or have noticed, any of the physical risk factors listed above.

Risk factors for stroke

The leading risk factor for stroke? High blood pressure.

Your blood pressure is the measurement of the force of blood against your artery walls. Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure damages your arteries and significantly puts you at greater risk for stroke.

Uncontrolled high blood pressure ultimately promotes plaque formation. Plaque is a waxy material comprised of cholesterol and other particles that build up in artery walls. Too much plaque narrows the arteries and restricts blood flow.

On the bright side, you can control hypertension. Exercise, weight loss, dietary changes, and medication are four variables you have control over.

Normal blood pressure is 120 (systolic pressure) over 80 (diastolic pressure) or below. Even a 20 mmHg systolic or 10 mmHg diastolic increase in your blood pressure doubles your risk of stroke.

Can smoking cause a stroke?

The leading preventable risk factor for stroke is smoking. Not only are smokers four times more likely to have a stroke than non-smokers, but exposing people to second-hand smoke can double a non-smoker's risk of stroke.

Why is this?

  • The nicotine and carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood.
  • Smoking damages blood vessel walls, making clots more likely to form.
  • Smoking decreases HDL (good) cholesterol.
  • Smoking combined with a family history of heart disease dramatically increases the risk.

Gender can also affect risk. Women who are smokers and use oral contraceptives significantly increase their chances of heart disease and stroke.

Signs & symptoms of a stroke

Knowing the signs and symptoms of stroke can help you take quick action to save your life or someone else’s. Per the Centers For Disease Control (CDC), the signs of stroke in both men and women are:

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

Call 9-1-1 immediately if you or someone else has any of these symptoms

There is one word that is common to all of these signs and symptoms — sudden. Unfortunately, like a heart attack, there are rarely early warning signs before the onset of a stroke.

Act F.A.S.T.

The most effective stroke treatments are available only if the stroke is recognized and diagnosed within three hours of the first symptoms. Time is of the essence.

What can you do if you think someone may be having a stroke? Perform the following simple test:

  • Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of their face droop?
  • Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred, or does it sound unintelligible?
  • Time: If you see any of these symptoms, call 9-11 immediately.

It’s vital that you note when any symptoms first appeared. This information will help health care providers determine the best treatment for each individual.

If the symptoms go away after a few minutes, it’s a sign that it was probably a transient ischemic attack (TIA). Although it’s a brief incident, a TIA is a serious event and won’t be remedied without medical help.

Also important: do not drive yourself or someone else to the hospital. Call an ambulance so medical personnel can begin life-saving treatment on the way to the emergency room.

Share your knowledge

Having read this article means that probably learned a thing or two about strokes. Share your knowledge with family, friends, and anyone else who may find it valuable. This information could save your life, and you never know what other lives it could impact


Having grown up in upstate New York, Bob Phillips spent over 15 years in the financial services world and has been making freelance writing contributions to blogs and websites since 2007. He resides in North Texas with his wife and Doberman puppy.

The information and content provided herein is for educational purposes only, and should not be considered legal, tax, investment, or financial advice, recommendation, or endorsement. Breeze does not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, reliability or usefulness of any testimonials, opinions, advice, product or service offers, or other information provided here by third parties. Individuals are encouraged to seek advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

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Published July 21, 2021