Over the last several decades, stroke has claimed fewer American lives. It has slid from third to fourth among the leading causes of death in the U.S. Experts credit several factors—many within your control—for its continued decline. Are you doing all you can to prevent a stroke?
Akin to a heart attack, a stroke is sometimes called a brain attack. Most strokes occur when a blockage, such as a clot, limits oxygen-rich blood from reaching the brain. Some strokes are triggered by bleeding in the brain. In both cases, brain cells can die within minutes, leading to disability and even death.
According to a recent study, stroke-related deaths have fallen by 33% since 2000. Better blood pressure control may account for much of this drop. High blood pressure puts you most at risk for a stroke. In fact, you are 4 times more likely to suffer a stroke if you have the condition. Many Americans are aware of this connection and making changes, including taking medication to manage their blood pressure.
Other factors may also be contributing to the lower number of stroke. Fewer Americans are lighting up than in the past. Many more are exercising and controlling their cholesterol levels. Better coordinated care for stroke is helping, too. You are less likely to die or suffer major disability if you receive timely treatment.
Stroke may be affecting fewer adults. But some groups aren't faring as well. In particular, people with diabetes face a higher risk for stroke, especially if they have high blood pressure. Past research has tracked an uptick in emergency stroke care for people with the disease. Even more concerning: A greater number of Americans are developing diabetes.
Younger adults may also become more prone to stroke. In general, your chance for a stroke increases as you grow older. Yet 15% of strokes occur in adolescents and those younger than age 55. In a recent study of more than 5,000 younger stroke survivors, unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as smoking and a lack of physical activity, were a common cause.
Awareness about stroke tends to be lower among younger people, too. They may not think it can happen to them. What's more, doctors don't always immediately recognize stroke in younger adults, especially if symptoms aren't typical. Another worrisome fact: Suffering a stroke at a younger age can result in many more years of disability.
Are you at risk for a stroke? Click here to find out more.
Fast treatment is crucial if you have a stroke. It can help curtail disability and death. Seek emergency care immediately if you notice these signs of a stroke:
Numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
Confusion or difficulty speaking
Problems walking or maintaining balance
Severe headache with no known cause
American Stroke Association
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute