Strokes and your health

GLENN ELLIS | 8/8/2016, 7:02 a.m.
A stroke is serious, just like a heart attack. Yet, many don’t know as much about it.
Stroke & the Brain illustration National Institutes of Health

(George Curry Media ) – A stroke is serious, just like a heart attack. Yet, many don’t know as much about it.

Stroke is one of those dreadful events that can cause death in an instant. While it is the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., it is more likely that the person suffering this attack on the brain will survive, barely. It is a leading cause of causes more serious long-term disabilities than any other disease, robbing people of the ability to do even the simplest of tasks, such as feeding oneself.

Each year in the United States, there are approximately 795,000 strokes. Five hundred thousand of these strokes are first-time occurrences. Nearly three-quarters of all strokes occur in people over the age of 65, and the risk of having a stroke more than doubles each decade after the age of 55.

African Americans have a much higher risk of death from a stroke than Caucasians. This is partly because Blacks have higher risks of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. For African Americans, stroke is more common and more deadly – even in young and middle-aged adults – than for any ethnic or other racial group in the United States. In any given year, 100,000 African Americans will have a stroke, and stroke is the third-leading cause of death in the African American community.

According to the National Stroke Association, stroke or heart disease will claim the lives of half of all African American women. African Americans have more severe strokes that are also more disabling.

Blood is circulating through your body all the time in tubes called arteries and veins. Usually, these blood vessels work fine, and there’s no problem. That’s important because blood carries oxygen to all the cells in your body. Without oxygen, the cells would die.

A stroke can happen if something keeps the blood from flowing as it should. A person might have a clogged blood vessel, so the blood can’t get through. Or a blood vessel may burst and a part of the brain is suddenly flooded with blood. Either way, with a stroke, brain cells die because they don’t get the oxygen they need.

On average, half the damage from a stroke happens within the first 90 minutes, 90 percent within three hours, and 99 percent within six hours. Yet, the average person waits 22 hours to get help. A University of Michigan study showed that a primary obstacle to care among African Americans was that they were less likely to arrive at the hospital in an ambulance than were Whites.

The best treatment for stroke is prevention. Some of the following risk factors are inherited, others are lifestyle-related and easier to change:

• High blood pressure. This is risk factor number one for stroke, and up to 40 percent of African Americans have the condition.

• Obesity. Nearly 63 percent of African American men are overweight or obese, and that number jumps to just more than 77 percent for women.