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Strokes: A Primer

Strokes: A Primer
A stroke is defined as the damage or death of brain cells caused by an interruption of blood flow.

Strokes are much in the news these days after the release of a study that determined that their occurrence is rising rapidly among young and middle-aged Americans, probably as a result of increasing obesity and bad eating habits.

A stroke is defined as the damage or death of brain cells caused by an interruption of blood flow. Eighty-eight percent of all strokes are ischemic strokes, which means they are caused by a blockage in an artery. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel ruptures within or near the brain.

According to the Stroke Assn. of Southern California, stroke is the No. 1 cause of disability, the second leading cause of dementia and the fourth leading cause of death for American adults. The fatality rate is 22% and roughly half of those who survive are afflicted by hemiparesis  — muscle weakness on one side of the body. Some 46,000 Southern Californians will experience a stroke this year.

According to the American Heart Assn., symptoms of a stroke include numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body; confusion or trouble speaking or understanding; trouble seeing in one or both eyes; trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; and severe headaches with no known cause.


"Stroke happens unexpectedly and shatters the routine of daily life, causing feelings of loss and uncertainty that traumatize everyone in the family," said Reams Freedman, managing director of the stroke association and himself a stroke survivor. Often, he said, "stroke can be prevented, successfully treated, and survivors ... can have rewarding lives, even as they recover."

 Dr. Jeff Saver, professor of neurology and director of the UCLA Stroke Center, agreed. "Stroke is a highly preventable disease. Key prevention steps include controlling high blood pressure, controlling high cholesterol, not smoking, exercising regularly and eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats. These simple steps can ward off two-thirds of all strokes."

Progress is being made in the battle to prevent strokes. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control reported that stroke has fallen from the third to the fourth leading cause of death in the United States.

Saver attributes the encouraging figures to "the cumulative effects of better blood pressure control, better cholesterol control and decreased tobacco use over the past 30 years." He warned, however, that "the obesity epidemic in young and middle-aged individuals threatens a future uptick in mortality again."

—Joe Yogerst, Brand Publishing Writer