By Maris Lambie
It started when Graham’s wife noticed his face was drooping, and that he had been dragging his feet while walking.
“I had always been a strong person health-wise, so I ignored it. I also had torn my Achilles heel, so I’ve always had a funny walk,” Graham stated.
While Graham had been aware of the signs and symptoms of a stroke, he had been unaware he was having one at the time. As a result, he did not seek medical attention until hours later.
Because he had not been seen within a three-hour time frame, Graham spent a week hospitalized, slowly losing mobility in his arms and legs.
“It had a lot of impact. I couldn’t work anymore, and bills couldn’t be paid. It did put a strain on my life for a bit,” he stated.
However, within the two years that have passed since Graham had the stroke, he has been able to make a steady recovery, and has been able to regain mobility in his fingers and arms.
He is one of the hundreds of thousands of people who experienced a stroke that year.
While the risk of stroke is something people should be concerned about year-round, this May, for National Stroke Awareness month, local organizations and medical officials say they are concerned with raising even greater awareness.
Each year, about 795,000 people experience a stroke.
Nationally, stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S., and locally, in Rochester, stroke is the third leading cause of death, and the number one cause of disability.
Experts say they believe the incidence of strokes is higher in urban areas.
“The rates differ all across the Rochester region, but are more concentrated in the city, and areas with a higher population of color,” Marc Natale, executive director of the Rochester and Buffalo region of the American Heart Association, stated.
Natale said the rates in the area vary by neighborhood, due to environmental and socioeconomic factors.
In poorer, urban areas, there are an abundance of convenience stores, with a lack of fresh produce, which can often lead to a greater consumption of processed foods, increasing blood pressure and cholesterol, and leading to higher obesity rates.
Another factor can be healthcare.
“If you don’t have good coverage, you might not have access to a good physician. And, if you have low income, you might not have health insurance, or could have trouble with transportation to get to a doctor,” Mary Dombovy M.D., and vice president of the Neurosciences Institute at Rochester Regional Health, stated.
While the American Heart Association has reported death rates from strokes have dropped by 20 percent in the African-American population, and by 17 percent in the Hispanic population, African Americans are still dying 10 years earlier due to stroke, and more likely to experience a stroke earlier in life.
“Two in three African Americans have high blood pressure, which is one of the key contributing factors to strokes,” Natale stated.
Other risk factors include obesity, smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes, and poor diet with little physical activity.
A less common risk factor is untreated atrial fibrillation, which is when someone has an irregular heartbeat.
The rates of stroke are significantly reduced when people eat a healthy diet, exercise for at least 150 minutes a week, maintain a low blood pressure and cholesterol, and refrain from smoking.
“Learning about the symptoms of stroke is important, too. You can save a life just by recognizing the symptoms of a stroke event, and taking the appropriate actions,” Dr. Dombovy stated.
Experts agree that time is crucial.
If someone is experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to call 911 right away, even if the symptoms have stopped.
Experts have emphasized that stroke patients should go to the hospital within the first three hours.
“There is a knowledge gap about what a stroke is. Large portions of the population cannot name the common symptoms of a stroke, such as weakness or speech changes,” Adam Kelly M.D. and associate professor of Neurology University of Rochester Medical Center, and Chief of Neurology at Highland Hospital, stated.
Second, even when someone is thought to be experiencing a stroke, many people do not recognize it as a medical emergency that can sometimes be reversed if treatment is provided in the first few hours.
Too frequently, patients and families wait to see if the symptoms improve (after resting, for example), or they call their primary care doctor, or go to an urgent care center.
“People need to be encouraged to call 911 immediately, if they, or someone they are with begins to show symptoms of a stroke,” Kelly stated.