On March 10, 2018, Tom Reed was getting ready for bed following a fun family vacation in Las Vegas.
“Suddenly I couldn’t talk,” recalls Reed, 37, of Boulder, Colorado. “I couldn’t lift my arm. My face was a little droopy on the right side, and I could only say ‘uh.’” His wife, Jenni, a nurse practitioner, immediately suspected Reed was having a stroke. Within 30 minutes, she got him to the emergency room where doctors administered tPA, the clot-busting drug.
“I had no clue that a stroke could happen to someone my age,” says Reed, who worked out several days a week, was at a healthy weight, and didn’t know of any preexisting medical conditions.
But following a series of tests, Reed learned he had a patent foramen ovale (PFO), a hole in his heart, through which a blood clot had traveled to his brain and caused the stroke. Two months later, he had surgery to close the hole.
Reed made a full recovery and is back to life as usual. Each morning on his doctor’s advice, Reed takes a low-dose aspirin to prevent clots and a second stroke.
“I run an average of 15 to 20 miles a week, and I am training for a half marathon,” says Reed. “I eat as healthy as I can by eating more fruits, vegetables, and heart-healthy foods such as nuts and seeds.”
While Reed says he doesn’t fear having another stroke, about 1 in every 4 stroke survivors will have another one. The best way to avoid a secondary stroke is to work with your healthcare team on a plan to reduce your risks. Aspirin, for example, is not appropriate for everyone, so it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider before starting an aspirin regimen.
While not all strokes are preventable, according to the American Stroke Association, up to 80 percent may be. By not smoking, making healthy food choices, being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, and controlling cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar, you can mitigate your chances of having a stroke.
Even people with health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or atrial fibrillation (AFib) may reduce their risk of stroke by talking to their healthcare provider about how they can make healthy choices each day.
Nothing causes more strokes than high blood pressure. Of the 116.4 million people in the United States who have high blood pressure, fewer than half have it under control. Lowering your blood pressure by 20 points could cut your risk of dying from a stroke by half.
AFib, an irregular heartbeat, increases a person’s risk of stroke by five times. Fluttering in the heart may cause blood to pool and form clots, which can make their way to the brain. Managing AFib and taking blood thinners on the advice of your healthcare provider may reduce your risk of stroke.
Diabetes is treatable, but even when glucose levels are under control, it greatly increases risk of stroke. It’s important to manage diabetes with your healthcare team.
A key to stroke treatment is recognizing the signs of stroke, as Reed’s wife did. Today, he talks about stroke warning signs, noting that F.A.S.T. is an easy way to remember the most common signs of stroke that come on suddenly:
Face Drooping: Does one side of the face droop or feel numb? Ask the person to smile.
Arm Weakness: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
Speech Difficulty: Is speech slurred? Are they unable to speak, or are they hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?
Time to Call 9-1-1: If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get them to the hospital immediately.
Mitchell Elkind, M.D., M.S., Committee Chair, American Stroke Association Advisory Committee Chair, President-Elect, American Heart Association President-Elect;Lynn Bronikowski, Content Marketing Manager, American Stroke Association, [email protected]