Stroke Awareness Month
May is Stroke Awareness Month. A stroke is brain attack, like a heart attack, but instead of a blood vessel problem in the heart, it happens in the brain. It occurs when a blood vessel in the brain becomes blocked or bursts. As a result, part of the brain does not get the blood that it needs, so it starts to die. When brain cells die, abilities controlled by that area of the brain such as memory and muscle control are lost. It is a devastating event, not only for the person that suffers the stroke, but also for the family members since they typically must take care of that person due to incapacitation.
Stroke kills about 140,000 Americans each year—that’s 1 out of every 20 deaths.
Someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds. Every 4 minutes, someone dies of stroke.
Every year, more than 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke. About 610,000 of these are first or new strokes.
About 185,000 strokes—nearly 1 of 4—are in people who have had a previous stroke.
About 87% of all strokes are ischemic strokes, in which blood flow to the brain is blocked.
Stroke costs the United States an estimated $34 billion each year. This total includes the cost of health care services, medicines to treat stroke, and missed days of work.
Stroke is a leading cause of serious long-term disability. Stroke reduces mobility in more than half of stroke survivors age 65 and over.
Risk of having a first stroke is nearly twice as high for blacks as for whites, and blacks have the highest rate of death due to stroke.
Unfortunately, most people ignore the warning signs of a stroke and in many cases the first obvious sign of a stroke is the stroke itself. However, our body always tells us if something is wrong. There are two types of strokes, hemorrhagic and ischemic. Hemorrhagic means that the blood vessels burst, and you get bleeding inside the brain and loss of blood flow to downstream parts of the brain. These are usually caused by high blood pressure. Ischemic (meaning no blood flow) stroke is caused by a blockage or clot formed in the arteries of the brain. There is a clear mechanism and cause of both types of stroke. It is the loss of production of nitric oxide.
Nitric oxide is one of the most important molecules produced in your body. Nitric oxide is what keeps your blood pressure normal and arteries clear of any plaques or clots. When your body makes enough nitric oxide, your blood pressure never increases high enough to cause a hemorrhagic stroke and the lining of your blood vessels stay clean and clear of any build up so no clots form and no blockage of the arteries. The problem is that the older we get, the less nitric oxide we make and that is why stroke risks increases with age and other lifestyle habits that also decrease nitric oxide such as smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyle and diabetes.
As with any medical condition or emergency, prevention is easier and cheaper than treatment. Below is the sequence of events that lead to a stroke. If you can recognize these and takes steps to correct them, then you can prevent strokes and heart attacks from happening.
Sequence of events that lead to stroke
- The production of nitric oxide in the lining of the blood vessels begins to decrease.
- There is a loss of function of the blood vessels. This presents as erectile dysfunction in both men and women. When the blood vessels cannot make nitric oxide, the blood vessels cannot dilate to increase more blood flow to cause an erection. That’s right, ED is an early warning sign of heart attack and stroke.
- Plaque begins to accumulate in the blood vessels and blood vessels become stiff.
- Blood pressure starts to increase (2 out of 3 Americans have elevated blood pressure)
- Blood vessels in the brain become narrow and less blood flow gets to certain regions of the brain
- The plaque in the lining of the vessels breaks off and causes a clot (ischemic stroke)
- Blood pressure gets too high and the high pressure causes blood vessels in the brain to burst (hemorrhagic stroke)
Obviously, if you can prevent the loss of production of nitric oxide, you can prevent all the events that follow. During the month of May, take the time to educate yourself on nitric oxide and begin to change your lifestyle to improve your body’s ability to make this very important and critical molecule. It is the best investment you can make for your health. Do it for your family. No one wants to be a burden on their family members once you have a stroke. It is a terrible event but one that is completely 100% preventable.