By Jason Gleason, DNP, NP-C, USAF Lieutenant Colonel (RET)
Strokes impact lives and the families of those who experience these debilitating events. As a board-certified family nurse practitioner (NP) working in primary care, I want to share some important information regarding stroke.
Like many of you, I know firsthand how devastating and destructive stroke can be. In 2011, my wife Heather suffered a horrific ischemic stroke which landed her in the intensive care unit; sadly, after spending 29 days in hospice, my wonderful wife passed away from stroke-related complications. This left me and our three young boys completely shattered. Heather was in good health and had just turned 40 years old, proving that stroke and its tragic carnage can happen to any of us.
Heather’s life and story did not end in 2011, however. Since then, knocking out stroke has become the professional anthem of my life and that of my boys. We’ve traveled coast to coast connecting with, empowering and inspiring health care professionals and communities to join us in our fight against stroke. We’re determined to not let our loss change us, but to use our loss to change the world in some positive and profound way to honor Heather by saving lives.
Stroke is disabling, destructive and deadly. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ranks stroke as the fifth leading cause of death for all Americans. It’s estimated that 1.9 million brain cells die off every minute that a stroke goes untreated.
Despite this scourge, there are many things that you and I can do to reduce the risk of stroke striking us and those we love. Here are three ways to reduce your risk and the risk of your family members from having a stroke:
- Work on tobacco cessation. Smoking tobacco users are twice as likely to have a stroke, and those exposed to secondhand smoke have a 30% increased risk of stroke.
- Enhance blood pressure control. Hypertension — also known as high blood pressure — is truly a silent killer. We often don’t feel bad or have any symptoms of hypertension until we suffer a stroke, heart attack, vision changes, kidney disease or other serious health issues. Uncontrolled blood pressure plays a role in about 50% of all strokes.
- Get screened for diabetes. According to the CDC, an estimated 37 million people in the U.S. have diabetes — 1 in 5 don’t even know it — and 96 million U.S. adults have prediabetes with 8 in 10 unaware. Not knowing and not controlling diabetes can be deadly — individuals with diabetes have twice the risk of stroke than those without it.
Finally, given that 1.9 million brain cells die off every minute a stroke goes untreated, it’s so important to remember BE FAST! If you notice anyone with: balance issues, eye or vision changes, facial drooping, arm and leg weakness, speech difficulty and complaining of a terrible headache — it is time to call 911 without delay. I know some of you may be asking — where do I go from here? You can join me in this fight to knock out stroke by first visiting your local primary care NP. They can help you and your family screen for stroke-related risk factors, keep you on track as a positive coach for lifestyle changes and prescribe effective treatment empowering you all to live your best life. Stay well!