May is Stroke Awareness Month – Every Second Counts
May is Stroke Awareness Month, a condition that effects someone in the United States every 40 seconds. Unfortunately, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen a 40% decline in patients seeking urgent or emergent care. This includes carotid artery disease, one of the leading causes of stroke.
What is Carotid Artery Disease?
Up to a third of stroke cases are caused by carotid artery disease, the narrowing or blockage of the carotid artery by plaque. The carotid arteries are large blood vessels in the neck that supply the brain and head with blood. When there is too much plaque, blood cannot properly flow to the brain or plaque can break off and travel to the brain. Both of these have the potential to cause a stroke.
Recognize the Signs of Stroke
Early action is one of key indicator in surviving a stroke. To recognize the signs and symptoms, remember BE FAST: Balance, Eyes, Face, Arms, Speech, Time.
Stroke is also preventable through lifestyle changes, disease management and proper screening:
- Live a healthy lifestyle – quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight. It is also important to limit alcohol consumption and get adequate sleep.
- Don’t ignore mini-strokes – Tell your doctor about Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIAs), also known as mini-strokes”. They can be an indicator of an underlying problem and potentially lead to a full stroke.
- Treat diabetes – people with diabetes are 2-4 times more likely to have a stroke. High blood sugar can damage the blood vessels and allow clots to form. These clots have the potential to break off and travel to the brain, causing a stroke.
- Manage blood pressure and cholesterol – high blood pressure and high cholesterol can cause plaque build-up in your arteries, leading to a heart attack or stroke.
- Get screened for carotid artery disease – screening is as simple as an ultrasound. If you have been diagnosed with heart disease or peripheral artery disease, you are at an increased risk for carotid artery disease. Other risk factors include being over age 65, smoking, and a family history of stroke.
Even during the COVID-19 pandemic people should not delay care for life-threatening conditions such as carotid artery disease which may lead to a stroke. It is important to talk to your doctor about your personal risk factors and decide if you could benefit from screening.