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Strokes are the fifth leading cause of death in America and a leading cause of adult disability. There are many myths surrounding this disease. Cori Nash, a nurse and Regional Stroke Coordinator for the CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Health System, sets out to debunk those myths.
Myth #1: You should quickly jump in your car and head for the hospital with your potential stroke victim.
Fact: A 911 call is best – because with that emergency call, a reservation is made in the ER for you, and doctors and nurses are prepped and ready to treat you. Also, treatment and assessment begins in the ambulance with qualified health care personnel.
Myth #2: Strokes only happens to older people.
Fact: Strokes can happen in young people, including infants, even! Nearly a quarter of strokes occur in people younger than 65. Regardless of age, the warning signs of strokes are the same. It’s often the reaction that’s different, though. Young people are more likely to ignore the symptoms, because they think a stroke can’t happen at their age.
Myth #3: Strokes are typically difficult to recognize.
Fact: Three-quarters of the time, even a lay-person can diagnose a stroke very easily. The test to use is called “FAST,” for the Face, Arm, Speech, and Time test. If a person is experiencing facial droop, if his/her arm or leg goes weak, if he/she has slurred or garbled speech, get that person to the emergency room as quickly as possible. The sooner you get to the emergency room, the sooner the person is going to get better.
Myth #4: Women are protected from strokes.
Fact: Women actually suffer strokes more frequently than men. Women typically live longer than men, and because they live longer, they’re more exposed to strokes.
Myth #5: You can treat a stroke at home by taking aspirin.
Fact: While taking an aspirin can be helpful when it comes to having a heart attack, which is not the case with a stroke. In fact, if you are experiencing a bleeding (called hemorrhagic) stroke, aspirin could potentially make the situation worse. The priority with a stroke is to get to the ER for treatment as quickly as possible.
Myth #6: There’s nothing you can do to prevent a stroke.
Fact: There’s a lot you can do to prevent a stroke. Take time to manage your blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol medications, and seek medical attention for any heart conditions or irregularities. Maintaining an appropriate body weight and eating a heart-healthy diet can also make a difference.
Myth #7: A stroke is a type of heart attack or a type of seizure.
Fact: A stroke is like a heart attack, but for the brain, so consider it a “brain attack.” It is a disease of the blood vessels of the brain that leads to brain damage. It could be a clot or a rupture in a blood vessel in the brain. Symptoms of a stroke may include seizures.
MYTH #8: Strokes are rare.
Fact: Stroke statistics reveal that strokes are quite common. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 6 million Americans have had a stroke. It’s the 5th leading cause of death in America.
MYTH #9: Strokes aren’t hereditary.
Fact: Strokes run in family, and risk factors for stroke include hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. Strokes do have a genetic component. Cardiac tumors, clotting disorders, and abnormalities with blood vessels can also be passed down from generation to generation, and can lead to strokes in young people.
MYTH #10: If stroke symptoms pass, you don’t need treatment.
Fact: “Temporary symptoms of a stroke can be diagnoses as a transient ischemic attack or TIA. TIAs are medical emergencies, too. With a TIA, the blood vessel that was blocked re-opens before it causes permanent damage. However, someone who’s had a TIA has a high chance of having a stroke within a week.
MYTH #11: Smoking doesn’t affect your chances of having a stroke.
Fact: Smoking is one of the biggest risk factors for stroke, especially in younger people.
MYTH #12: Stroke recovery only happens in the first few months after a stroke.
Fact: Stroke recovery can take up to two years, and some studies suggest people can benefit from physical therapy and other treatments even a few years after a stroke has occurred.
If you’d like more information on stroke and heart health, take our free, online assessment at www.christussantarosa.org/heartrisk.