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WATCH: Millions of Americans are at risk for this “brain attack”

This blog post is part of the Google+ Healthy Hangouts series on breaking and timely health news.

Millions of Americans are at risk of stroke – sometimes called a “brain attack” – which can lead to permanent disability and even death. There are two types of stroke:

Ischemic stroke is by far the more common type of stroke. It occurs when there is a lack of blood flow to the brain due to a blockage or clot in a blood vessel supplying the brain or part of the brain.

Hemorrhagic stroke is caused by a rupture or leak in a blood vessel in the brain rather than a blockage.

In this Google+ Hangout, Roger Khetan, MD, and Cherese Wiley, MD, both internal medicine physicians on the Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas medical staff, are joined by Carmen Ramirez, MD, a neurologist/neurohospitalist on the medical staff at Baylor University Medical Center, to discuss stroke symptoms and prevention.

Afib can lead to a stroke

One of the reasons stroke seems to be being talked about more is because of advertisements and stories about a heart condition called atrial fibrillation (Afib).

Dr. Wiley cites Afib, the most common type of irregular heartbeat, as a key risk factor for ischemic stroke. Afib can lead to blood clots in the heart, which can break off and travel through the bloodstream to a blood vessel in the brain, causing a stroke.

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In fact, reducing stroke risk is the primary reason that patients with Afib are often given blood-thinning medications to prevent blood clots from forming.

Related: In stroke care and treatment, every minute matters

Time is brain

There are many reasons that people can have a stroke besides Afib. Regardless of the cause, it is important to recognize the early signs of stroke onset.

Getting to the hospital as soon as possible is vital to preserving brain tissue and function. In fact, many of the most effective, least invasive treatments for stroke, such as blood clot-busting medication, must be administered within a few hours of stroke onset.

Dr. Ramirez recommends remembering the acronym FAST as a key to recognizing early signs of stroke and knowing when to call 911.

  • Facial droop/numbness
  • Arm weakness
  • Speech changes
  • Time to call 911

However, she also says that sudden dizziness and instability walking are also signs of stroke and people experiencing these symptoms should seek medical attention immediately.

Related: Would your kids know to call 911 if you had a stroke?

Preventing a repeat

Once a patient has had a stroke, their risk for future strokes increases. That’s why Dr. Wiley, Dr. Khetan and Dr. Ramirez all stress the importance of consistently taking medications and complying with physician orders after being treated for stroke.

Other keys to preventing a first or repeat stroke include:

  • Controlling cholesterol
  • Quitting smoking
  • Controlling blood pressure
  • Controlling diabetes
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Taking medications for cardiovascular health as recommended

Watch the entire Hangout for more information about stroke, as well as TIA, a condition whose symptoms often mimic a stroke, but generally, don’t cause permanent damage or disability.

Strokes can target anyone. Know your risks by taking this quiz. 

About the author

Joe Joseph
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J.R. Joseph holds degrees in psychology and communications from Loyola University in New Orleans as well as an MBA from the University of Dallas. He has worked as a writer in the health care field for the past decade.

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WATCH: Millions of Americans are at risk for this “brain attack”