Stroke Prevention
Symptoms to Look Out For and Solutions to Consider
Reprinted with permission from the National Stroke Association

What is a Stroke/Brain Attack?
A stroke or "brain attack" occurs when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel or artery, or when a blood vessel breaks, interrupting blood flow to an area of the brain. When a stroke occurs, it kills brain cells in the immediate area. Doctors call this area of dead cells an infarct. These cells usually die within minutes or a few hours after the stroke starts.
When brain cells in the infarct die, they release chemicals that set off a chain reaction called the "ischemic cascade." This chain reaction endangers brain cells in a larger, surrounding area of brain tissue for which the blood supply is compromised but not completely cut off. Without prompt medical treatment, this larger area of brain cells, called the penumbra, will also die. Given the rapid pace of the ischemic cascade, the "window of opportunity" for interventional treatment is about six hours. Beyond this window, reestablishment of blood flow and administration of neuroprotective agents may fail to help and can potentially cause further damage.
When brain cells die, the individual loses control of the abilities that area of the brain once controlled. This includes functions such as speech, movement, and memory. The specific abilities lost or affected depend on where in the brain the stroke occurs and on the size of the stroke (i.e., the extent of brain-cell death). Some people recover completely from less serious strokes, while other individuals lose their lives to very severe strokes.

The Cost of Stroke to All Americans

The Toll on Older Adults

  • Stroke risk increases with age. For each decade after age 55, the risk of stroke doubles.
  • For adults over age 65, the risk of dying from stroke is seven times that of the general population.
  • Two thirds of all strokes occur in people over age 65. The over-50 population is expected to rise by 19 percent from 1994 to 2000, making it the fastest growing U.S. age group. This puts more people at risk for stroke every day.
    Recognizing Stroke Symptoms
    Stroke is a brain attack, yet most people don't know the symptoms. In a recent Gallup poll, 97 percent of the respondents over age 50 couldn't name a single stroke symptom. Stroke is an emergency! When someone experiences any of these symptoms, there's no way to tell at first if it's a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA is a temporary interruption of the blood supply to an area of the brain. TIAs can appear hours, days, weeks, or months before a full stroke). If it is a stroke, immediate medical treatment can save the person's life and greatly enhance his chances for successful rehabilitation and recovery. If it's a TIA, the doctor will evaluate the underlying causes and begin appropriate preventive measures. Even if these symptoms don't cause pain or they go away quickly-call 911 immediately. (See chart in adjoining column for symptoms).

    Uncontrollable Stroke-Risk Factor
    Uncontrollable stroke-risk factors include:

    Controllable Stroke Risk Factors
    Treatable medical disorders that increase stroke risk include: Certain lifestyle factors increase stroke risk: Medical Management of Stroke Risk
    In addition to modifying lifestyle factors, stroke risk can be reduced through medical management. Our notions about stroke and its treatment are being revolutionized. This truly is the "Decade of the Brain" for stroke. For the first time in the history of stroke treatment, today pessimism is being transformed into optimism and nihilists into interventionalists. Our nation's third greatest killer and most prolific disabler may soon be relegated to the status of a petty thief rather than a serial murderer. The new stroke interventionalists (neurologists, neuroradiologists, and emergency medicine physicians) who are dedicated to emergent stroke treatment are leading the insurgency in demonstrating what has now become the National Stroke Association's call to arms, "changing the way stroke is viewed and treated."

    The Learning Brain: Hope for Stroke Patients
    By Anat Baniel

    Two years ago, at age 69, John was in the hospital recovering from open-heart surgery after suffering a torn aorta and a mild stroke. He could barely move; standing and walking were out of the question.
    Using the Feldenkrais Method-touching and moving different parts of the body-I worked with John to see whether, despite the trauma, his brain remembered some of what he used to do and was able to learn and form new connections to replace the lost ones. The Feldenkrais Method is based on the understanding that the human brain has the capacity, throughout life, to form new patterns of movement, feeling, thought, and action with great speed and efficiency. No matter what level of skill or degree of limitation one has, the brain can learn to replace limited and disorganized movement patterns with new and better organized ones. This holds true whether the brain has suffered a stroke or not. We do not lose the ability to learn; it just lies dormant.
    John demonstrated this when, after just two Feldenkrais sessions, he was able to start walking. Three months later, much of the rigidity John had developed in his chest and spine disappeared. John also learned to roll on the floor like a baby, use his hip joints and lower back more, get a more flexible spine, and breathe better. The process was gentle and gradual and did not require specific skills except the ability to listen, feel, and work. Soon thereafter, John was back to playing golf "better than I did ten years ago," traveling, and leading a full life. Today he doesn't even think of himself as a stroke victim.

    About the author: Anat Baniel is the director of Movement Coordination Learning, Inc., 260 Summit Drive, Corte Madera, CA 94925. The corporation provides Professional Training Programs, public seminars, and wellness programs in the Feldenkrais Method. Ms. Baniel is the author of Movement for Life and has movement lessons recorded on video and audio. For information, call 415-927-2211.

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