Honoring National Stroke Awareness Month with Dr. Firouzeh Naghdi
It might begin with a slight blurring of the vision, or a brief dizzy spell. It could also happen suddenly and intensely, perhaps with a black out, or sudden loss of the ability to speak clearly. Whatever way stroke is experienced at first, the result can be life-changing or life-threatening when immediate action is not taken.
Firouzeh Naghdi, DO, who practices Family Medicine with the new Premier Suburban Medical Group in Blue Island, Lemont, Woodridge and Orland Park, says there are also other symptoms of stroke that should never be ignored. “You could also have trouble swallowing, weakness in just one arm or leg or maybe your face or mouth droops. May is National Stroke Awareness Month, so we are working especially hard this month to make sure everyone understands the risk factors, the symptoms and what to do in the event that you suspect you or someone near you is having a stroke.”
While strokes can happen at any age, including in very young people, most strokes happen in people older than 65. More women than men will experience a stroke and stroke is more likely in Black women than in any other group. Stroke is a significant cause of serious, permanent disability in seniors and it is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States.
Stroke risk factors
Dr. Naghdi says there are several factors that put people at a higher risk of stroke. “The most impactful risk factor for having a stroke is having had a previous stroke. I watch for a family history of stroke and heart disease, especially heart attack, in my patients. Those with uncontrolled hypertension, obesity and diabetes are also at a higher risk.” Smoking is a powerful stroke risk factor, as tobacco use causes plaque build up and narrows the arteries, blocking blood flow. Drinking alcohol will also raise your risk of stroke.
When Dr. Naghdi sees a patient over the age of 50 with one of more risk factors, she recommends screenings. Doctors should examine BMI or Body Mass Index, which helps determine if a person is overweight or obese. Measuring blood pressure is an important tool, as is listening to the carotid arteries in the neck just under the jawline for healthy blood flow.
When your physician suspects a stroke may be in the future, they will recommend further testing. These may include blood tests to measure LDL and HDL cholesterol levels, an EKG which monitors heart rhythm, an echocardiogram or an ultrasound of the heart, or an ultrasound of carotid arteries. If these tests should show a problem or are inconclusive, an angiogram may be ordered. During the angiogram, a dye will be released into your blood vessels, helping to make the vessels and any narrowing or clotting visible as X-rays are taken.
Types of stroke
Transient ischemic attacks, or TIA, can confuse people, as symptoms come and then go, usually within five minutes. While patients may think these quick symptoms are nothing to worry about, the reality is that TIAs are mini-strokes, where the blood flow to the brain is blocked for just a few minutes. TIAs are precursors to life-changing strokes and people should call 9-1-1 immediately. TIA is a medical emergency.
Only 13% of strokes are hemorrhagic. When an artery in the brain has a weak spot or aneurysm, it may rupture or leak, putting damaging pressure on brain cells. Many hemorrhagic strokes are fatal.
However, the vast majority of strokes are ischemic. In 87% of strokes, the artery supplying oxygenated blood to the brain becomes blocked with a blood clot or plaque.
The good news
“80% of strokes are preventable,” says Dr. Naghdi, “and most of the prevention habits are simple lifestyle changes. Stop smoking immediately and reach out to your doctor for help in doing so. We know that nicotine is a powerful addiction, so we are here to help with many different smoking cessation tools. Your doctor can also help you reduce your intake of alcohol.”
“Become more physically active and eat a balanced diet that is rich with fresh vegetables and fruits, lean proteins and grains like farro and quinoa and low in sugar, salt and preservatives. Both increasing activity and reducing the amount of highly processed foods you eat will help you lose weight, which will also reduce your stroke risk,” Dr. Naghdi says.
Keep blood sugar and blood pressure well in control and at goal. Having regular blood pressure checks and taking any medication as directed by your doctor will help cut the risk of stroke. Checking blood sugar regularly and adjusting medications as indicated will also help. Getting enough sleep is also important, as it helps with stress management, which helps reduce overall inflammation.
Dr. Nagdhi stresses the two most important changes to make to reduce stroke risk. “The first is to make sure blood pressure is monitored and controlled, either with lifestyle changes or medications. The second is to make sure that diabetes is controlled by being vigilant about testing and medications.”
Watch to watch for
In 1998, the acronym FAST was created by stroke physicians to help people recognize stroke symptoms - and take action. “F means to watch for the face drooping,” says Dr. Naghdi. “A stands for arm or leg weakness. S is for slurred speech and T means time - react quickly and call 9-1-1 immediately.”
“That T is vital. It’s not only “time to call 9-1-1”, it’s also “time is brain.” Getting immediate medical care as soon as symptoms present is very crucial in recovery. The faster a stroke is treated, the more likely patients will make a healthy recovery and regain full function.”
This May, if you or a loved one has risk factors for stroke, see your primary care physician to discuss your chances of experiencing a stroke and ways to prevent it.