May is Stroke Awareness Month and May 10-16th is National Women's Health Week, making this the perfect time to talk about the special challenges women face related to stroke and how women can reduce their risk and protect their health. Being the mid-Atlantic Regional Health Administrator might make stroke prevention my professional duty, but it's my role as a father, husband, and son to so many special women that makes it my personal responsibility.
It's alarming to think that every 4 minutes someone in the United States dies of a stroke -- most of them women. Stroke -- which is sometimes called a brain attack -- happens when a clot blocks the blood supply to the brain or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. This serious health condition can also lead to life-changing complications and long-term disability. Although anyone can have a stroke at any age, women are more likely than men to have a stroke and to die from it. There are a few simple education and healthy lifestyle changes that I encourage my wife and daughters to live by, and that all girls and women can follow to reduce their risk of stroke:
Know your family history: Women have unique risk factors for stroke. Some, like heredity, age, gender, and ethnicity can't be controlled, but knowing these risks related to these factors helps my wife and I appropriately educate ourselves and our daughters about preventing stroke.
Be physically active. Every morning, my wife and I start the day with physical activity, I like to jog and she likes to go to the gym. And we support our daughters active events--volleyball tournaments, soccer games and track meets. Even our dog Bella (another girl!) gets her walks. By maintaining an active lifestyle, my wife and daughters lower their risk for certain medical conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and being overweight or obese. Not only does being active prevent stroke but it also helps keep them happy (another plus!)
Eat a healthy diet: Nutrition plays a key role in preventing stroke and heart conditions. When preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner for our family, we make sure that we're getting plenty of whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, and limit the amounts of fat, salt and added sugar. Of course the girls love chocolate, but they know that it is a limited, after-dinner treat. Even Bella's favorite treat is a carrot.
Limit alcohol intake: My wife and I definitely enjoy a glass of wine, but it's important to remember that drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure levels and the risk for stroke, and can increase the fat in your blood, which can harden your arteries. Women can drink, but should limit themselves to one drink per day.
Don't Smoke. My mom was a smoker most of her life, and my siblings and I often urged her to quit. By smoking, she was damaging her heart and blood vessels, and because of the nicotine in cigarettes, was raising her blood pressure. Exposure to secondhand smoke damaged our blood vessels and could have actually caused clots to form. When mom passed, she was adamant about her sons and grandchildren never starting this terrible habit, largely because of the negative health effects -- like stroke -- that it could cause.
Learn to recognize the warning signs. Common signs of stroke include:
- Sudden numbness
- Sudden confusion
- Sudden trouble seeing
- Sudden loss of balance/coordination
- Sudden severe headache
It's also important to remember that we all need to act F.A.S.T., because when a stroke happens, every minute counts!
- F--Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
- A--Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
- S--Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
- T--Time: If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.
One of the most important things to remember about stroke is that we can prevent many of these devastating events and also reduce the severity of a stroke when one occurs. This May, help educate the women in your life about stroke. Visit CDC's Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, and the Office on Women's Health Stroke websites for more information.
CDC's Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention focuses on promoting cardiovascular health and improving quality of care for all and eliminating disparities associated with heart disease and stroke. The Million Hearts initiative has set an ambitious goal to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. Collaborative efforts to educate the public about stroke are imperative to reaching this goal. The Office on Women's Health (OWH), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), works to improve the health and sense of well-being of all U.S. women and girls. OWH serves as the focal point for women's health activities across HHS offices and agencies and leads HHS efforts to ensure that all women and girls achieve the best possible health.