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Your Health: The importance of stroke prevention

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, strokes kill 140,000 Americans each year.

This makes strokes the fifth leading cause of death for Americans and highlights the importance of prevention and healthy habits.

Dr. Paul Kaiser is the director of the Stroke Program at the University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro. He has been in private practice at the Lawrenceville Neurology Center, P.A. for 26 years.

He said there are measures people can take to modify their risk of a stroke.

“Everyone has an innate risk of having a stroke. The risks can be from high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking, a sedentary life style, which can be treated,” Kaiser said. “However, family history and race play a factor, which can not be changed or treated.”

Some of the most likely causes for a stroke include the narrowing of blood vessels inside the brain or blockage of blood vessels inside the brain; chronic effects from high cholesterol and diabetes; carotid blockages, which is caused by too much plaque in the carotid arteries; and be from an irregular heart beat.

According to Kaiser it is important for people to notice the symptoms of a stroke.

“People can get warning symptoms where the blood vessels block, but it is not irreversible. Once the blood flow returns the tissue is all salvageable, so no tissue dies off,” he said. “Over time as long as the blood vessels are blocked the more likely there will be tissue damage and the matter of brain cells that die off increases over time. The earlier the better, treatments are time sensitive. The sooner you get to hospital will hopefully save more brain cells.”

Harvard University Medical School officials said signs of a stroke include, weakness on one side of the body, numbness of the face unusual and severe headache, vision loss, numbness and tingling, and an unsteady walk.

Strokes affect more than 795,000 people in America, according to CDC officials.

Kaiser said complications from having a stroke can range from weakness, trouble with speech, to sensory problems and behavioral changes.

“It depends on the size of the stroke on whether someone can return to themselves prior to having one. The size of the stroke depends on what artery is blocked up,” he said. “How much tissue that is affected will depend on how many symptoms they are left with. The more symptoms and tissue damage the less likelihood there is of recovery.”

Kaiser said, however, people over time do get better.

“There is some improvement. There is a degree of whether or not things are functional; meaning if your arm is weak where you could not move it initially and now move it a couple inches is recovery but not really functional,” he said. “If your strength comes back almost completely over time the deficits will be less obvious.”

The most common strokes Kaiser has dealt with stem from high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure.

“Strokes can happen at any age. It does not just affect the older population,” he said. “The risk increases as you get older but strokes can happen to someone in their 20s. For young people the risk factors vary and can include drugs, cigarettes and other factors.”

Kaiser said it is a lot of counseling and continuing education that plays a part in treatments.

“Hopefully, if necessary, lifestyle changes, which means taking medicine more aggressively to control your blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol,” he said. “We have found that exercise is really important. There have been studies that have shown diet plays a role.”

Once a person has a stroke they have an increased risk of having another one.

“We should be having people making strong lifestyle choices at a young age. The sooner you start the better off you are,” Kaiser said. “It is hard to take medicine for something you do not feel or are aware of on a day to day basis.”

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