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World Stroke Day 2014

Today is World Stroke Day. On this day, we hope the voice of stroke education will grow even louder. Strokes can attack any person without notice. Everyone needs to be aware of the statistics of a stroke and how to respond if we suspect someone is having one. Here are some facts from The Internet Stroke Center which offers a wealth of information:


U.S. Statistics

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States. More than 140,000 people die each year from stroke in the United States.
Stroke is the leading cause of serious, long-term disability in the United States.
Each year, approximately 795,000 people suffer a stroke. About 600,000 of these are first attacks, and 185,000 are recurrent attacks.
Nearly three-quarters of all strokes occur in people over the age of 65. The risk of having a stroke more than doubles each decade after the age of 55.
Strokes can and do occur at ANY age. Nearly one fourth of strokes occur in people under the age of 65.
Stroke death rates are higher for African-Americans than for whites, even at younger ages.
On average, someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds.
Stroke accounted for about one of every 17 deaths in the United States in 2006. Stroke mortality for 2005 was 137,000.
From 1995–2005, the stroke death rate fell ~30 percent and the actual number of stroke deaths declined ~14 percent.
The risk of ischemic stroke in current smokers is about double that of nonsmokers after adjustment for other risk factors.
Atrial fibrillation (AF) is an independent risk factor for stroke, increasing risk about five-fold.
High blood pressure is the most important risk factor for stroke.

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Canadian Statistics

In 2000, stroke accounted for 7% of all deaths – 15,409 Canadians.
Every seven minutes, a Canadian dies of heart disease or stroke.
Stroke was the second largest contributor to hospital care costs among cardiovascular diseases (2000-2001).
Eighty percent of Canadians have at least one of the risk factors for heart and/or cerebrovascular disease: daily smoking, physical inactivity, being overweight, self-reported high blood pressure, or diabetes.
Between 1969 and 1999, death rates for cerebrovascular disease decreased by 62%.

Learn more about stroke in Canada from The Growing Burden of Heart Disease and Stroke in Canada 2003, a report by the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Control, the Canadian Cardiovascular Society, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.


Worldwide Statistics

According to the World Health Organization, 15 million people suffer stroke worldwide each year. Of these, 5 million die and another 5 million are permanently disabled.
High blood pressure contributes to more than 12.7 million strokes worldwide.
Europe averages approximately 650,000 stroke deaths each year.
In developed countries, the incidence of stroke is declining, largely due to efforts to lower blood pressure and reduce smoking. However, the overall rate of stroke remains high due to the aging of the population.

Source: World Health Report – 2002, from the World Health Organization.

The American Heart & Stroke Association has a great way to learn and recognize the signs of a stroke.
If you suspect someone is having a stroke, it is important to act F.A.S.T.

F Face Drooping – Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile uneven?

A Arm Weakness – Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S Speech Difficulty – Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?

T Time to call 9-1-1 – If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get the person to the hospital immediately. Check the time so you’ll know when the first symptoms appeared.

The Day the Wind Caught Fire

I looked at the side of my wrist this morning.  A glimpse of red caught my eye.  I looked again and realized there was brown surrounding the base of the red line.  I looked closer yet, and realized the brown was a long blister at the base of my thumb.  I realized I had burnt myself.  I attempted to think of when I was near something that was really hot – or really cold in my perception.
Before I had a stroke, I thought a stroke was an ailment, or medical condition, that affects an older population like grandparents and their friends.  The stroke would leave their faces drooping on one side and cause slurred speech or their foot to drag as they walked.  I obviously had a complete misconception.  This is one reason I started my blog FindingStrengthToStandAgain.  I want people to know that strokes can happen at any age.  Strokes occur due to a variety of reasons, and there is no textbook prediction of the lasting effects a stroke will have on one’s body.

One of the lingering problems my stroke left me with is the lack of ability to feel correct temperature sensations on the left half of my body.  This problem has slightly lessened with the passing of time.  When I was first recovering, I remember walking outside as tiny drops of rain began to fall from the sky.  I cannot describe to you the pain I felt!  It was as if needles were being pushed through my bones.  With each sprinkle, with each touch of rain, the needles quickly, deeply pierced my skin.  I learned quickly to prevent precipitation from touching me.  On another day I went outside and it was slightly breezy.  The wind was fire.  This is odd because fire only touched the left half of my body.  My right arm would perceive the wind as normal.  With each gust, the raging inferno would rush through my exposed left skin.  I learned quickly, regardless of the weather, to wear a sweater or coat draped over my left side.  If my skin was covered, I would not feel the pain.

My children running up to me with chilly hands to grab my arm still causes me to wince in pain.  The rain no longer feels like needles, but also it does not create the pleasant sensation I used to enjoy.  I still also get confused by cold or extreme heat.  One area the stroke affected is where my brain detects temperature sensations.  This is no longer an automatic sensation I can be aware of.  Our counter tops are granite.  I have been known to think my hand brushed against the counter – the frigid sensation registering as boiling pain – only to look and realize the skin is really feeling boiling pain because it is touching the side of a hot pan.  I do pay attention visually when I am in the kitchen, but I am only human and cannot notice everything.  Maybe yesterday I was too close when I leaned over and blew out the candle.  Maybe I was too close to the hot coils when I was lifting the lid out of our dishwasher.  I am not sure what caused this blister.  It is over now.  I just need to always be careful.

I decided to write this post to show yet another way a stroke can alter someone’s lifestyle.  I used to have fun splashing in puddles.  I used to have all of my eyesight.  I used to have more “normal” abilities than I have now.  Yet, I am amazed at things the stroke has taught me.  Please, remember a stroke is not an ailment that affects only our grandparents and their friends.  It is not a medical condition that hits older people exclusively.  The handbooks and guides given out to predict a stroke survivor’s outcome should not be one size fits all.  Set your sights above those predictions, and remember everyone will progress differently.  Each stroke affects a different area of the brain in different ways.  Have patience and take time to understand how your definition of normal will evolve.  After all, prior to my experiences, I never would have believed that a simple blood clot could change me in so many ways, and I never would have understood one day a stroke could make the wind catch fire.

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