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Beating Brain Attacks: Stroke Awareness

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By Kellie Morris

May is Stroke Awareness Month. This time is designated for a coordinated effort for education about the very real possibility for people of any age to suffer brain attacks and the lasting effects of an attack. Even with ongoing educational efforts, a stroke is still the leading cause of “serious long-term disability” and among the top five causes of death in the United States. It is past time to beat the statistics and be in the know!

One must know the risk factors to limit the potential of having a brain attack. An article from John Hopkins Medicine lists the most common as well as some lesser-known risks. Stroke is considered preventable and treatable, nonetheless no one wants to have the experience. Some risk factors include: high blood pressure (a major culprit in brain attacks), smoking, excessive alcohol use, illegal drugs, birth control pills (oral contraceptives), diabetes, heart disease, lack of exercise, and obesity.

Antwoine Washington

One must also know if they are experiencing symptoms. The most common signs are sudden severe headaches, dizziness, slurred speech, and numbness on one side of the body. It is most important not to ignore symptoms. Antwoine Washington experienced a brain attack at 35 years of age. He says jokingly, “Be a hypochondriac,” as he reflects on how he rationalized and tried to evade his symptoms. He credits his wife for advocating on his behalf as being critical to his diagnosis, care, and recovery. Like many, he couldn’t believe that he could be affected so young. With seriousness, he encourages others to take prescribed medications and maintain annual checkups, especially men.

Washington also now knows what to do if he experiences symptoms again — CALL 911. While there have been tremendous advancements in stroke care with the development of medications called TPA’s, time is a critical factor in managing stroke care. Many people report calling a relative when they experience life-threatening symptoms. Call 911 FIRST! Since strokes can be recurring, acceptance of potential future episodes makes knowing the symptoms, and one’s own body, critical.

One must know how to accept loss and look to the future. While a stroke can be fatal, many people survive brain attacks. Although they may not lose their lives, there can be many other types of loss. Survivors may grieve the loss of physical appearance, ability to move freely due to physical impairment, confidence, independence, intimacy, finances, memory, vision, etc. It is less common now than in years past to see survivors with severe physical disabilities, but the mental and emotional effects are reported to be equally life-changing. Washington says, “When I tell people, they don’t believe me. So I stopped telling people and felt that no one really cared.” He questioned himself and wondered if he had done something to cause his condition. In the article, “Grief after Stroke,” grief is said to be “a normal response” to the losses experienced.

Beating brain attacks looks like success when

  • survivors share their stories,
  • you know the symptoms and signs,
  • you manage your healthcare, and
  • you attend educational events to become knowledgeable.

 Although stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S., and the number one cause of long-term adult disability, there are many misconceptions about stroke. Here are some of the most common ones.

MYTH FACT
Stroke cannot be prevented. Up to 80% of strokes are preventable.
There is no treatment for stroke. At any sign of stroke call 9-1-1 immediately. Treatment may be available.
Stroke only affects the elderly. Stroke can happen to anyone at any time.
Stroke happens in the heart. Stroke is a “brain attack.”
Stroke recovery only happens for the first few months after a stroke. Stroke recovery is a lifelong process.
Strokes are rare. Stroke is the 5th leading cause of death in the U.S. There are nearly 7 million stroke survivors in the U.S.
Strokes are not hereditary. Family history of stroke increases your chance for stroke.
If stroke symptoms go away, you don’t need to seek medical attention. Temporary stroke symptoms are called transient ischemic attacks (TIA). They are warning signs prior to actual stroke and need medical attention immediately.

Sonya Vezmar, Vice President for Community Impact at the Cleveland Office of The American Heart & Stroke Association, provided the following information regarding events planned for May.

May 11:

Title: YOU’RE INVITED to a BE THE BEAT Virtual Dialogue

Program Description: Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a global menace — and a hidden one. More than a billion adults worldwide are estimated to have high blood pressure, a leading cause of heart disease and stroke. But fewer than half of them know they have it or are being treated. Hear from Cleveland Clinic experts on why managing high blood pressure is critical to reducing your stroke risk. Join us on May 11th from 2:00-3:00 p.m. to learn more. The virtual event will be on Zoom and Facebook Live. Registration information will be posted on the websites at www.heart.org/cleveland, and https://cuyahogalibrary.org/

May 21:

Title: Power Sunday at The Word Church

Program Description: The Church will host a Power Sunday service during American Stroke Month to help empower their community to lead a healthier lifestyle. Educational materials will be provided in a “Power Sunday toolkit” to guide the activities of the program.

 May 23:

Title: YOU’RE INVITED to a BE THE BEAT Event

Program Description: Stroke is dangerous and deadly — the No. 5 killer and a leading cause of disability in America.  High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke and affects millions of us. Check it every day, talk to your doctor, and follow your beat. The American Stroke Association warmly invites you to join us on May 23 from 6:00-8:00 p.m. to learn more from our physician expert on the signs, symptoms, and types of strokes, and how you can lower your risk for one.

This in-person event will present Antwoine Washington, a stroke survivor who will share his story. We’ll then move to a Cleveland Clinic Physician who will speak about strokes, with a Q & A session following. Once that’s wrapped up, there will be health screenings available, a tour of the Stroke Mobile Unit, Hands-Only CPR training & an area showcasing our stroke survivor’s art, with resources available that tie into mental health & well-being.