Stroke is a leading cause of death in America. Nearly 800,000 Americans suffer a stroke each year. New research from the American Heart Association which shows that stroke deaths are on the rise in certain counties. Specifically in St. Johns County, data shows that stroke deaths among middle-aged individuals (35-65) increased 12 percent from 2010 to 2016, and they increased 19 percent among individuals 65+.
What most people don’t realize is that heart health has a lot to do with one’s chances of suffering from a stroke. About three out of four people who have a stroke for the first time have high blood pressure, and atrial fibrillation – an irregular atrial heart rhythm – is present in about one out of five strokes. With February being American Heart Month, now is the perfect time to be aware of your own heart health.
Link Between Heart Health and Strokes
Heart disease and stroke are closely tied together. The reason is that the brain needs oxygen-rich blood pumped from the heart to function properly. A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is suddenly interrupted. This can be caused by a blood clot creating a blockage or a blood vessel rupturing. Risk factors for stroke include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking and diabetes. However, one of the leading causes of stroke people may not know about is Atrial Fibrillation, or AFib.
AFib is the most common heart arrhythmia and increases your stroke risk by five times. In fact, AFib is present in one out of every five stroke cases, according to the American Heart Association. AFib is such a potent risk factor because the upper chambers of the heart (or atria) do not contract properly, allowing blood to pool in a cavity known as the left atrial appendage. The pooled blood can form a clot that travels to your brain’s arteries, interrupting blood flow and leading to a stroke.
How to Reduce Stroke Risk
To reduce the risk of stroke, the best defense is a good offense. The vast majority of strokes can be prevented with diligent monitoring and lifestyle changes, including:
- Monitor your blood pressure
- Control your cholesterol
- Keep your blood sugar down
- Get active
- Eat better
- Lose weight if needed.
- Don’t smoke.
- Minimize alcohol intake
- Consider testing for sleep apnea.
In addition, knowing the signs of stroke is vitally important. The important acronym to remember for identifying a stroke is F.A.S.T.
- Face drooping
- Arm weakness
- Speech difficulty
- Time to call 9-1-1
It’s common to mistake or minimize signs of stroke, but don’t delay treatment. For example, if your arm is suddenly dumb or weak, and it doesn’t go away in a few minutes, don’t assume it just fell asleep. Call 911.
Dr. Anthony Magnano is a Ponte Vedra resident and cardiologist at St. Vincent’s Medical Center Riverside. For more information on Dr. Magnano and his specialty treating Atrial fibrillation, visit Jaxhealth.com/services/afib.