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On the morning of July 8, 2010, at the age of 58, I found out the hard way what having several stroke risk factors means.
The stroke began sometime in my sleep. Waking up I found my speech was strange and difficult to make clear. I sounded like I had a mouth full of novocaine.
There was something very wrong with me.
I called the doctor’s office and told them what was going on. They told me to go to the nearest hospital. After I ate my breakfast and had my coffee I called my husband and told him what was going on and that I needed to go to the hospital.
One thing I was grateful for was I had learned the stroke symptom recognition signs. Face, Eyes, Smile, Dizziness, Confusion. When one side of your face droops, you arch your eyebrows and only one goes up, your smile is uneven, you become dizzy or confused. Yeah, I had all of these and my left arm was feeling funny. I had no idea when the stroke actually happened or how long it had been going on.
I have always tried to be conscious of my health, eating healthy, and exercising but the two years before my stroke I sort of let things go. I married a wonderful man who, unfortunately, could eat anything and I, of course, was trying to impress him with my cooking. Unfortunately, I was also eating what I was cooking. This led to a gain of 20 lbs, higher cholesterol, and blood pressure. One of the twelve stroke risks!
My exercise regime was interrupted and my stress level rose. But, gee, I am only 58 there is time to get back into shape, right? Wrong! I found out the hard way that a stroke can happen to anyone at any age, especially if you have the genetic predisposition, characteristics, and lifestyle.
I never made the connection between my parent’s strokes and my future until that day. Talking to the doctor and listing my family history we recognized that my family was prone to strokes. My parents both had strokes during other illnesses and at fairly young ages. I just naturally attributed the strokes to the illnesses. Now I know better.
What to Do
I was very lucky that morning. Even though part of me was saying “no, I’m not having a stroke or heart attack”. While the other part was saying “get your butt up and go to the hospital”. When I realized I could not talk and my face was beginning to sag more, I took my medications and aspirin. I called the doctor and went to the hospital.
They checked me out, did the CAT scan, MRI, and heart ultrasound. The problem they found that caused the stroke was a blood clot that stopped the flow of blood in my brain. I had what they call an Ischemic stroke as shown in this illustration.
It was in the occipital and deep brain areas. They called it a lacunar stroke. This is an ischemic stroke that happens deep in the brain as blood flow to one of the small arteries deep within the brain becomes blocked.
Go here for more information: https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/lacunar-stroke-a-to-z. There are two main types of stroke; Ischemic stroke shown above and Hemorrhagic stroke; caused by bleeding within the brain or surrounding tissues.
This bleeding damages the brain from the increasing pressure of blood within the head. These can happen anywhere in the brain and cause multiple problems.
After a couple of hours, my symptoms became more pronounced and the realization sank in that I was actually having or had a stroke. This was not good.
Well, after three days in the hospital and most of the symptoms subsided I realized I needed to make some changes in my life. I will have to say that having this stroke actually saved my life. I am now on cholesterol-lowering medication and medication that makes my blood platelets slippery, clotting less. I watch what I eat, try to get more exercise by walking, and keep the stress levels down.
The diet was kind of tough as I was (still am) seriously addicted to ice cream but I switched to popsicles and sorbet instead and they are pretty good. I found several websites with good low cholesterol diets and menus to help make it easier to keep my cholesterol down. Reading labels at the grocery store is another important part of aftercare and good nutrition.
My husband had a difficult time adjusting to “our” new diet. He was raised on meat, potatoes, and gravy. Deep-fried everything. Not any more! More chicken, fish, vegetables, and “baked” potatoes.
According to a MayoClinic.com, 2010 article, recovery from a stroke is difficult as “a stroke is a life-changing event that can affect your emotional well-being as much as your physical function.” I was lucky, many are not. My recovery has been fairly easy although I have had my days. My symptoms have mostly disappeared, my face has returned to normal except for some related to my mouth. The effects in my brain haven’t been resolved so fast.
The most difficult part is getting over the idea that I might have another stroke and have it be worse. The doctors have told me, however, that I am not at any more risk of having another stroke than the average person is at having a stroke in the first place.
As stated in the above article, the best things to do are going on with your life, get out of the house, and make sure friends and family know what you want and need, and do not be hard on yourself. As long as you follow the doctor’s recommendations, lower cholesterol, get physical activity and try to eliminate stress, things should be ok. I’m one very large step ahead of where I was.
There is more research going on now regarding strokes, how to predict them, and getting the treatment needed to minimize the long-term results. The most difficult part of predicting them is eliminating the denial and honestly looking at ourselves to recognize the risk factors. None of us wants to see that we are happily going down the path to a stroke. (MayoClinic.com, 2010) The Mayo Clinic lists these as risk factors for having a stroke or heart attack:
* Personal or family history of stroke, heart attack, or TIA.
* Being age 55 or older.
* High blood pressure — Risk of stroke begins to increase at blood pressure readings higher than 115/75 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Your doctor will help you decide on a target blood pressure based on your age, whether you have diabetes, and other factors.
* High cholesterol — a total cholesterol level above 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), or 5.2 millimoles per liter (mmol/L).
* Cigarette smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke.
* Being overweight (body mass index of 25 to 29) or obese (body mass index of 30 or higher).
* Physical inactivity.
* Cardiovascular disease, including heart failure, a heart defect, heart infection, or abnormal heart rhythm.
* Use of birth control pills or hormone therapies that include estrogen.
* Heavy or binge drinking.
* Use of illicit drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamines.
Because the risk of stroke increases with age, and women tend to live longer than men, more women than men have strokes and die of them each year. Blacks are more likely to have strokes than are people of other races. (MayoClinic.com, 2010)
Looking at this list above I see where most of them applied to me but I was not looking.
Like so many other people, I was not aware of several of these risks or how they applied to me. I knew I had angina, high blood pressure, a past history of smoking and drinking. I had recently discontinued using hormone replacements as well. I was being treated with beta-blockers but was unaware of how the correlation of this or my family history was going to put me at risk for a stroke.
Ten Years Post Stroke
Here I am, alive and well ten years post-stroke. I did have one other small stroke but it was not significant. It happened because I had run out of my Plavix for several days and was under some stress. Having my stroke was a two-fold occurrence. It got me to pay more attention to the stroke risks, my lifestyle, and my diet. It also forced me to look at different ways to fill my time.
I love to read but after my stroke the reading was frustrating. I couldn’t remember even half a paragraph to make sense of what I was reading. I took up crocheting again and then went on to knitting. Learning to knit has filled my life with so much more than I had. I have sheep for wool, I spin the wool, and knit presents for my friends and family.
There are still some deep brain deficits that give me grief. I’ve tried to cut my ring finger on my left hand off several times, I run into things on the left, and trying to figure out some things gets frustrating. I hope this has given some people some help and light at the end of the tunnel. Know the signs, go to the hospital, immediately, don’t wait!
Make it a point to know these risks and ask your medical provider to explain these risks if you should have any questions regarding any you have.
MayoClinic.com, (2010, July 10) Stroke – Coping and Support, Mayo Clinic Staff writer, Retrieved December 18, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stroke/DS00150.
Ischemic Stroke Illustration, (2009, October 20). Oxygen During Stroke can Reduce Damage to Brain Tissue, By Adrian, Retrieved December 18, 2010, from http://www.elements4health.com/oxygen-during-stroke-can-reduce-damage- to-brain-tissue.html.
Stroke Guide – (2010, December 18) What Increases Your Risk; Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/stroke/guide/stroke-what-increases-your-risk/
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact their medical doctor for advice.
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