What Every Man Needs to Know About Strokes
Strokes are the fourth leading cause of death in men, yet most guys can't name one stroke symptom. Here's how to recognize and prevent them.
Why should I care about strokes?
If you're like most middle-aged guys, you probably don't spend much time worrying about stroke symptoms. After all, strokes are a risk we associate with later in life -- something to fret about after we retire and are fitted with our first pair of dentures.
But maybe we should be a little more concerned. Strokes are, after all, the fourth most common cause of death in all men -- behind heart disease, cancer, and accidents. They are indeed more likely in men over 65, but they can happen at any age. Strokes are also more likely to be fatal and strike early in men than in women.
The consequences of a stroke can be devastating. Not only can a stroke kill you, if it doesn't, it can leave you severely debilitated, paralyzed, and unable to communicate.
However, the news isn't all bleak. According to the National Stroke Foundation, 80% of all strokes are preventable. So it's time to improve your odds. If you're at risk, you need to learn the signs of stroke and make some changes in your lifestyle.
What is a stroke?
There are actually two different kinds of strokes.
- Ischemic strokes. These are the most common type of stroke. They happen when a blood clot blocks an artery, choking off oxygen to a part of the brain. Without oxygen, brain cells first go into shock and then start dying. So the longer you go without stroke treatment, the greater the damage to your brain.
While not a full-fledged stroke, transient ischemic attacks (TIAs or "mini-strokes") cause stroke symptoms but resolve within a few minutes. We'll talk more about them later.
- Hemorrhagicstrokes. While less common, these strokes are more devastating. They're the result of a hemorrhage -- a burst blood vessel -- in the brain. Although the cause is very different from an ischemic stroke, the result is the same: Brain cells can't get the blood they need. More than 60% of people who have a hemorrhagic stroke die within a year, and those who survive tend to be much more disabled.
How can I prevent a stroke?
Hemorrhagic strokes are best prevented by controlling high blood pressure. The less pressure there is on the walls of your blood vessels, the less likely they are to burst.
The more common ischemic strokes are caused by blood clots -- the same villains responsible for heart attacks. To decrease the risks, you need to keep your arteries clear of plaque -- the gunk that builds up in them and leads to clotting. Ways to do this include:
- exercising for at least half an hour on most days of the week
- eating right -- preferably a diet low in saturated fat (such as that in red meat) and high in fruits and vegetables
- losing weight (if you're overweight)
- not smoking -- smokers are twice as likely to have a stroke