Know Stroke: Risk Factors

Since January, approximately 350-thousand Americans have suffered a stroke. It's the number three killer in the U.S. And while we hear a lot about #1 and #2-- heart disease and cancer, we don't hear very much about stroke. Over the next three days on KLTV 7 News at 5, we're going in-depth about stroke. At the end of this series, you will know how to cut your risk of stroke, identify the symptoms quickly and most importantly, you will know what to do to drastically improve your chances of surviving a stroke with a good chance at a pretty normal life afterwards.

First what is a stroke? There are two basic kinds. The first, and most common is called an Ischemic Stroke. In one way or another, blood flow to the brain becomes blocked, usually because of a blood clot. Cut off its supply of blood and that part of the brain literally dies. Not as common, is the Hemorrhagic stroke. A blood vessel in the brain actually breaks and bleeds out, inside the brain.

"They both can be bad," says ETMC Neurologist, Lester Collins, M.D. "The hemmorhagics tend to be more often fatal."

Dr. Collins says they see about 3 or 4 strokes a day in Tyler. Some are preventable. Some are not. Risk factors fall into two categories, modifiable and non modifiable.

Non modifiable risk factors include things like age. People over 60 run a higher risk of stroke. Family history of stroke is a strike against you. And for some unexplained reason, black people have a higher incidence of stroke. There's one more non modifiable risk factor. It's called a Transient Ischemic Stroke. Think of it as a mini stroke in your past. It has the same symptoms as a regular ischemic stroke, except the clot dissolves on its own before you suffer major damage. The scary thing is, it means you have all the factors in place to have a big stroke.

Modifiable risks include: High blood pressure, smoking, obesity, lack of exercise, high cholesterol, certain forms of diabetes and heart problems, especially atrial fibrillation. "That's because the heart isn't emptying every time it pumps. So the blood just sits in there and pools, leading to more blood clots and then they can break loose and go up to the brain."

Tomorrow, we'll talk about the symptoms of stroke and why it's so important to be able to identify them quickly.