Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Myth: Headaches always accompany strokes

This is a cautionary note about a myth that might make you hesitate to get some help if you or someone you care about might be having a stroke.

People might remember the following stroke symptoms, as the American Stroke Association lays out:
  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
However, people might miss the not-so-fine print, also on the association's Web site:

If you notice one or more of these signs, don't wait. Stroke is a medical emergency. Call 9-1-1 or your emergency medical services. Get to a hospital right away!

Notice the association doesn't say get if if someone has all the signs. Just once would suffice.

I did not have a headache associated with my stroke. Most of the people I've spoken with who have gone through having a stroke tell me that he or she did not have a headache. While a sudden, severe headache is a clear warning sign, especially of a hemorrhagic stroke. But it's only one sign, and you should pay attention to all of them.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Pivotal events, pivotal people

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
-Acts 2:4

Pivotal events in history. When something occurs that changes the direction of a people, a nation, the world. Books upon books have been written about pivotal events. There’s a whole cable channel devoted to history. We study those events in colleges and universities, in elementary and high schools. We are all students of history because we all witness history, and our lives are intertwined with history.

And characters in those stories – pivotal people in pivotal events.

And this is one of reasons why Acts is one of my favorite books of the Bible. It constantly talks about the precise timing and planning of God that created the Christian church and spread its message throughout the world. It gives me comfort to know that no matter how chaotic this world seems to be, God is truly in control.

The verse above is from the pivotal event of the day of Pentecost that launched the Christian church. Read the entire story in Acts. And even further back, explore the beginning of the festival that brought all those people who heard Peter's message to Jerusalem.

Now, are all Christians challenged to stand up and preach in a language we suddenly can speak? Maybe. Maybe not. But I’m certain we can – in some way – be pivotal people in lives that God created.

I will never forget the pivotal people of the day I had a stroke - the colleague who got me some help; the people who transported me to a hospital; the fact that, in 1998 at a small hospital in a small town, there happened to be a neurologist capable of using tissue plasminogen activator for the "Lazarus effect."

You can be a pivotal person in the life of a stroke victim by simply calling 911 and getting some help. Be willing and stand ready to be that pivotal person if that time comes.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Myth: You can't prevent strokes

Some of the key stroke risk factors:

  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Poor diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Obesity
All of these risk factors are under your control - at least to a degree, often a large degree.

Smoking? Stop. Now. If you have a history of high blood pressure - the highest stroke risk factor - perhaps the factors of poor diet, physical activity and obesity would be involved. Diabetes, too, can play into these other factors.

And yes, you can prevent a stroke. Like all in the human condition, there are no guarantees. However, you can definitely improve your odds. 

See a doctor. Address the risk factors that fit your profile. You are too important to ignore these risks. Yes, there are other risk factors that are out of your control. But control what you can - it can save your life.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Stroke screenings in Columbia, Mo.

Tomorrow: Stroke screenings set:
In honor of stroke awareness month, University Hospital is offering free stroke health screenings from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 20 in the main lobby of the hospital.

The screening will include a blood pressure check, body mass index and screening for other risk factors.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Myth: There's nothing you can do

In keeping of our series of stroke myths for Stroke Awareness Month, here's another one, and it happens too many times: Someone has a stroke, but it's assumed that the best thing to do is wait, that nothing can really be done.

A recent study showed that friends of stroke victims are reluctant to call 911:
a new study shows that most people who realize stroke warning signs are occurring in a friend or family member may not call 911, thereby delaying potentially lifesaving treatment.

This is alarming, Michigan researchers suggest, because people who suffer strokes need immediate assessment and treatment.

But people who would call 911 if they thought a friend or loved one was having a heart attack don't seem to realize that strokes are deadly, too, the researchers write; strokes are the No. 3 killer in the U.S. ...

"Calling 911 gets you to the hospital fast and allows the paramedics to communicate with the hospital so staff are prepared for your arrival," says study researcher Chris Fussman, MS, an epidemiologist with the Michigan Department of Community Health in Lansing, in a news release.
Yes, treat a stroke like a heart attack. Call 911 immediately. If the victim gets into an emergency room soon enough, there are potential treatment options available. But time is critical - every second is critical. Know the signs and symptoms, as described by the National Stroke Association:

F = Face
• Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

A = Arms
• Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S = Speech
• Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Are the words slurred? Can the person repeat the sentence correctly?

T = Time
• If the person shows any of these symptoms, time is important. Call 911 or get to the hospital fast. Brain cells are dying.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Myth: Strokes only happen to the elderly (Part 2)

Last week, we talked about the myth that strokes happen only to the elderly.

More news still showing that  strokes aren't limited to the elderly:
"We see stroke victims of all ages," said Michele Peaches, a nurse at HealthSouth Deaconess Rehabilitation Hospital. "Some people think, 'Well I'm in my 30s or 40s, and its something I'll be concerned about when I'm elderly,' and that's just not the case.

"With the inactive lifestyles and unhealthy diets that are so prevalent today, everyone is at risk — young and old."

During May, Stroke Awareness Month, remember that even for the 30s and younger, you need to educate yourself about what to see and what to do when a stroke occurs.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

'Do not be anxious about anything'

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I freely admit that a dozen years ago today, I was anxious.

Noon, at age 39, I lost the feeling and use of the right side of my body. I suddenly could not speak or read. Not a good day.

But a nearby colleague got me some help. The ambulance took me to the hospital. The doctors and others injected me with tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). Movement came back, slowly. Language skills came slower. My wife, standing by me, asked me to say the word "Jonesboro," the name of a nearby city where I had recently visited. My three responses: Towrith. Rithe. Rice. Not even close.

So you might be able to understand my anxiety. Would I ever be able to work again? How could I provide for my family? Would I ever be able to tell her I love her again?

But the anxiety slowly faded. Replaced by frustration as my recovery slowly occurred. To this day, when I'm tired or stressed, I have trouble finding the right words in speech. To this day, I wonder whenever I stumble over a word, I wonder: Was this caused by my stroke? I require much more concentration when I speak publicly. My formerly common glib, off-the-cuff comments are far less common these days. Been that way for 12 years.

But I finally did beat anxiety. My stroke and recovery reminded me that God gives me the strength I need. Not necessarily the abilities I want or what I think I need, but what I actually need. He will do the same for any and all.

Today, on my stroke anniversary day, I ran 10 miles in just under 90 minutes. And for that, I thank God. I realize that not every stroke survivor recovers completely. Stroke is the leading cause of permanent disability in the United States. Each recovery manifests itself in a different way. A relationship with God offers strength and help to any and all.

Today, I remind you to know the signs and symptoms of strokes - be aware so you can improve someone's recovery or event save a life.

(Image from Heartlight)

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Myth: Strokes only happen to the elderly

Are you under 50? Under 40? Under 30?

So you shouldn't worry about strokes, right?


It happened to me at age 39. Follow this link and you'll find stories and studies showing that even people in their 30s and younger can be affected.

There are a variety of causes - mine, as best the experts can tell, came about because of a now-fixed heart defect called a patent foramen ovale. Others fall in to the risk groups because of preventable - smoking, for example - factors and genetic predisposition of, say, high cholesterol.

At any age, you need to be aware of stroke risk factors, signs and symptoms.

One recent story about strokes and younger populations:
Studies increasingly show that devastating and chronic health conditions and the risk factors associated with them are reaching an ever-younger population, says Doug Van Houten, R.N., clinical coordinator of Washington Hospital’s Stroke Program.

"Younger and younger people are being affected by chronic health issues," he says. "The way to treat all these devastating conditions is that we need to start encouraging people at a young age, as young as elementary school, to adopt a healthy lifestyle, which includes regular physical activity and better food choices."

Monday, May 03, 2010

Time for stroke awareness

May is Stroke Awareness Month. As a journalist, I'm not crazy about the idea of always having a Fill in the Blank Month. As a stroke survivor, though, I know that it's very important for everyone to be aware of stroke signs and symptoms, stroke risk factors and even myths about strokes.

During this month, watch for some postings about common myths about strokes, such as:

  • It only happens to old people.
  • There's nothing you can do about a stroke
  • If you think you are having a stroke, just wait and see if you feel better.
  • If you are not having a headache, you're not having a stroke.
  • Strokes only happen to obviously unhealthy people.

All false - and dangerous for those having a stroke.