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CPH: Stroke awareness is critical

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POTSDAM – As National Stroke Awareness Month winds down this week, Canton-Potsdam Hospital reminds individuals of the importance of stroke awareness and prevention, and the advantages of involving your primary care provider in the process.

Blood vessels that carry blood to the brain from the heart are called arteries. The brain needs a constant supply of blood, which carries the oxygen and nutrients it needs to function. Each artery supplies blood to specific areas of the brain. A stroke occurs when one of these arteries to the brain either is blocked or bursts. As a result, part of the brain does not get the blood it needs, so it starts to die.

Symptoms of stroke include sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body; sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination and sudden severe headache with no known cause.

Other important but less common symptoms include sudden nausea and vomiting - different from a viral illness because of how fast it begins (minutes or hours versus several days); brief loss of consciousness or a period of decreased consciousness (fainting, confusion, convulsions or coma).

Additionally, women may report unique stroke symptoms including sudden face and limb pain, sudden hiccups, sudden nausea, sudden general weakness, sudden chest pain, sudden shortness of breath or sudden palpitations.

If you have any of these symptoms or see them in someone else, you should call 911 immediately. Every minute counts, as treatment can be more effective if given quickly.

According to the National Stroke Association (NSA), anyone can have a stroke no matter their age, race or gender. But, the chances of having a stroke increase if a person has certain risk factors, or criteria that can cause a stroke. The good news is that up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented, and the best way to protect yourself and loved ones from stroke is to understand personal risk and how to manage it. The NSA provides an interactive learning tool on its website, www.stroke.org, detailing more than 20 leading risk factors for stroke.

There are two types of risk factors for stroke: controllable and uncontrollable. Controllable risk factors generally fall into two categories: lifestyle risk factors or medical risk factors. Lifestyle risk factors can often be changed, while medical risk factors can usually be treated. Both types can be managed best by working with a physician, who can prescribe medications and advise on how to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Uncontrollable risk factors include being over age 55, being male, being African American, Hispanic or Asian/Pacific Islander, or having a family history of stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA).

The NSA recommends the following guidelines for stroke prevention:

■ Know your blood pressure. If it is high, work with your doctor to lower it.

■ Find out if you have atrial fibrillation. If you do, work with your doctor to manage it.

■ If you smoke, stop.

■ If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.

■ Know your cholesterol number. If it is high, work with your doctor to control it.

■ If you are diabetic, follow your doctor’s advice carefully to get your blood sugar level under control.

■ Include exercise in your daily routine.

■ Enjoy a lower sodium (salt), lower fat diet.

■ Ask your doctor if you have circulation (blood flow) problems which increase your stroke risk. If so, work with your doctor to control them.

■ If you have any stroke symptoms or see them in someone else, call 911.

Due to the multi-faceted need for awareness, prevention and treatment knowledge needed to adequately avoid stroke, Canton-Potsdam Hospital strongly recommends consulting with your primary care provider to determine your personal risk factors for stroke and a plan for prevention. Diagnostic imaging tests and cardiologic consultations are available to help in diagnosing evident issues, but should always be part of a broader awareness and prevention regimen, guided by your provider.

For those who have suffered a stroke, physical, occupational and speech therapy is available to help the stroke victim recover lost functionality and lifestyle to the fullest extent possible.

For more information on stroke, visit www.stroke.org.

For information on medical providers, stroke prevention and rehabilitation services offered at Canton-Potsdam Hospital, visit www.cphospital.org.

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