Do you know what a stroke looks like?

June marks "Stroke Awareness Month", but do you know what the signs and symptoms are of a stroke? 

According to a recent article published in a prominent Canadian newspaper, strokes amongst young Canadians ages 20-59 years old are on the rise. So what exactly is a stroke and how do you recognize the signs and symptoms quickly enough to get the help needed? According to the Mayo Clinic, a stroke is when blood flow to the brain is interrupted or greatly reduced depriving the brain of much needed oxygen and nutrients. As a result of severely decreased blood flow, your brain's cells begin to die. A stroke is considered a medical emergency, and getting the right treatment quickly is crucial to a better health outcome. 

What are the signs and symptoms to look out for? The key signs and symptoms of a stroke include headache, which may be described as "the worse headache the person has ever had", difficulty with speech and/or understanding spoken words, sudden paralysis or numbness in the face, leg, or arm, difficulty seeing out of one or both eyes, and difficulty walking as a result of dizziness. If you or someone you know begins to experience these symptoms, make sure to take note of the time they begin as it can be critical to the treatment provided. It is important to seek medical attention right away if you experience any of the symptoms listed above. 

Types of strokes. There are two main branches of stroke, ischemic and hemorrhagic. An ischemic stroke occurs when there is a blockage in a blood vessel either due to a blood clot, a fat deposit better known as plaque, or an embolus which is a blood clot that forms outside of brain, usually in the heart and then travels through the blood stream to the brain.  The other type of stroke is a hemorrhagic stroke which occurs when a blood vessel leaks or bursts, this can occur as a result of chronic health conditions such as uncontrolled high blood pressure, weakness in your blood vessels, or over treatment with blood thinners. The majority of strokes individuals experience are ischemic. There is also a third category of stroke called a transient ischemic attack (TIA), this is commonly referred to as a ministroke. Ministrokes occur when there is a temporary decrease in blood flow to the brain which results in symptoms of a stroke that usually only last a few minutes. 

Prevention. What can you do to protect yourself from a stroke? There are many modifiable factors that you can change to lower your risk of stroke. These include losing weight if you are overweight or obese, engaging in physical activity, and avoiding heavy alcohol use/illicit drugs. 

Naturopathic treatments to reduce risk of stroke. There are numerous medical risk factors that increase your chance of having a stroke. Working with your naturopathic doctor to reduce these risks is key in preventing strokes and other health complications. Medical risk factors include high blood pressure, cigarette smoking or exposure to second hand smoke, high cholesterol, diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, and cardiovascular disease. There are a variety of naturopathic treatments to address all of these risk factors in order to lower your stroke risk and optimize your overall health and well-being. For example, did you know garlic can lower your blood pressure? This is only an example of a naturopathic intervention that has been shown to greatly reduce blood pressure in individuals. 

Take away points. It is important to remember the acronym FAST when assessing for stroke: facial drooping, arm paralysis/weakness, slurred speech, and time - call 911 immediately or get to your nearest ER for prompt treatment. Remember every minute counts. 

Yours in health, 
Dr. Kate Klein, ND