Real Talk: Strokes Can Happen While You’re Young

About a month ago I was approached by The American Stroke Association. Seems random?

Not to me. You see, my dad is actually a neurologist. Strokes have been a topic of conversation in our household for as long as I can remember.

It's my dad's life work.

So when The American Stroke Association reached out to partner to spread awareness about strokes I was down. So down. Because 1) I always like to bring real topics that matter to you guys but also 2) there aresomany misconceptions about strokes.

Like that they only happen to old people.

So rather than rattle off a bunch of bullet points about a topic I truthfully don't know that much about - I'm bringing in the expert. That's right. My dad!

I want to start doing more guest posts and interviews on here and who better to kick off the series than one of my favorite humans. World Stroke Day is October 29th and I'm so proud to partner with both my dad and The American Stroke Association to raise awareness!

Obviously I've known you for 25 years. But tell my readers about you and your work.

I am currently Medical Director of the Stroke Program at Mercy Medical Center Redding and medical director of Neurology.

I received my MD, PhD degrees from The Chicago Medical School in 1992.  My PhD work was studying the neuropharmacology of a terribly disabling inherited condition called Torsion Dystonia. I did a Medical Internship at Lutheran General Hospital in Illinois and Neurology residency at Stanford University.

I’m subspecialty fellowship trained in Stroke/Vascular Neurology at Stanford University and participated in numerous clinical trials investigating experimental treatments for stroke and new MRI techniques for diagnosing stroke.

I’m Board Certified in Neurology and subspecialty certified in Vascular Neurology.I’ve been in private practice since 1998 and working as a Neurohospitalist (an inpatient, hospital-based neurologist) since 2005.

Okay, but what exactly does a neurologist do?

A neurologist is a physician that specializes in the diagnosis and medical treatment of diseases involving the brain, spine, peripheral nerves and muscles.

Neurologists often treat people with Stroke, Epilepsy, Dementia, neuropathies (peripheral nerve diseases), movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, and conditions such as muscular dystrophy.

Neurologists generally do not perform surgery.  We typically assist in the diagnostic evaluation of patients and use medicines as our tools to help. Today, however, the field is evolving.

There are now neurologists (called interventional neurologists) who also perform less invasive “catheter-based” procedures to help open closed or nearly closed blood vessels during an acute stroke. These procedures are revolutionizing acute stroke care.

So why choose neurology? What made you choose to study it in med school?

I studied neurology and the neurosciences for one simple reason.  I found the brain to be the most interesting organ in the body.

The brain is who we are.  The brain is the one organ that cannot be replaced and still maintain our identity, our knowledge of self.  The brain is the source of all the wondrous things created by humans.

In studying Neurology you learn not only about how the brain works, but also how things can go wrong.  It’s been amazing to see the advances in this field over the last several decades. Now, we’re able to help people with neurological diseases that not long ago were considered incurable or untreatable.

Okay, so let's talk strokes. Can you explain what it means to have a stroke?

A stroke happens when a blood vessel in the brain becomes blocked, or alternatively breaks open and starts to bleed.  There are two basic kinds of stroke, an ischemic stroke and a hemorrhagic stroke.

Ischemia is the medical word for lack of blood flow.  During an ischemic stroke the brain is damaged because the nerves normally fed by the newly blocked blood vessel are now not receiving the oxygen and nutrients they need to survive.  Permanent damage can happen very  quickly, possibly within minutes.

With a hemorrhagic stroke, a blood vessel may burst or leak causing bleeding into or around the brain.  Damage may occur from an expanding blood clot which compresses nerve cells and may cause swelling of the brain and increasing pressure in the head.

In both cases, the portion of the brain that is affected will stop working and symptoms occur as a result.

So what exactly are some of the symptoms of having a stroke?

What symptoms develop depends on what part of the brain is being damaged.  Common symptoms include sudden severe headache (often “worst headache of my life”), sudden weakness or numbness usually on one side of the body, sudden blindness, sudden difficulty speaking or understanding others, or sudden severe dizziness or trouble walking.

One of the things that makes strokes difficult to recognizes is that symptoms can be quite varied.  Strokes obviously affect the brain and sometimes when the brain is sick it’s not able to make good decisions or recognize what’s happening.  That’s why it’s very important that both people at risk for stroke and their family and friends become familiar with the symptoms.

When someone develops a stroke, it’s been said that the person may lose 2 million nerve cells every minute treatment is delayed.  In the case of ischemic stroke, where strokes happen from a blocked blood vessel, there are treatments available which may reopen a blocked blood vessel and lessen or reverse the symptoms.

Every minute counts however. That’s why it’s so important to call 911 immediately when stroke symptoms occur.

An easy mnemonic is that acronym FAST. F = drooping of the face, A = arm weakness or trouble lifting an arm, S = speech problems, difficulty speaking or understanding others, T = time, time to act fast and call 911.

So how can we, especially at a younger age, work to prevent a stroke?

Stay healthy!  Take good care of yourself.  Keep active, loose the weight, watch your diet, don’t smoke, drink in moderation, and avoid drug use.

Get aware of your family history.  If your family has a history of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart attacks or strokes you may be at risk too. High blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol may start young and may run in families. One of the challenges is that it these things may cause no symptoms for decades, all the while doing silent damage that will at some point cause serious problems.

The good news is these things are very treatable and the problems largely preventable. Get a check up and if your blood pressure, your cholesterol, or your blood sugar is high, get them treated.

I'm so proud of my dad and I'm so proud of his work. I feel so passionately that health and wellness are important - especially at our age. I'm all about education and creating healthy habits while you're young!

...but also indulging in the occasional bagel.


This post has been sponsored by American Stroke Association in conjunction with Blog Meets Brand. As always, all opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the organizations that make Blondes & Bagels possible!

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