Strokes Increase over the Holidays

Information is the Best Medicine

Glenn Ellis | 11/24/2015, 10:22 p.m.
For many years, researchers have been intrigued by a disturbing pattern: Deadly heart attacks increase during the winter holiday season. ...

For many years, researchers have been intrigued by a disturbing pattern: Deadly heart attacks increase during the winter holiday season. One study even found distinct spikes between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. A stroke is serious - just like a heart attack. Yet, most of us don't know as much about it as we should.

Each year in the United States, there are approximately 795,000 strokes. Five hundred thousand of these strokes are first occurrences, while the rest are repeat strokes.

Stroke is the fourth-leading cause of death in the country. And stroke causes more serious long-term disabilities than any other disease. Nearly three-quarters of all strokes occur in people over the age of 65 and the risk of having a stroke more than doubles each decade after the age of 55.

For African Americans, stroke is more common and more deadly, even in young and middle-aged adults, than for any ethnic or other racial group in the United States. In any given year, 100,000 African Americans will have a stroke, and stroke is the third-leading cause of death in the African American community. According to the National Stroke Association, stroke or heart disease will claim the lives of half of all Black women. African Americans have more severe strokes that are also more disabling.

Blood is circulating through your body all the time in tubes called arteries and veins. Usually, these blood vessels work fine and there's no problem. That's important because blood carries oxygen to all the cells in your body. And without oxygen, the cells would die.

A stroke can happen if something keeps the blood from flowing as it should. A person might have a clogged blood vessel, so the blood can't get through. Or, a blood vessel may burst and a part of the brain is suddenly flooded with blood. Either way, with a stroke, brain cells die because they don't get the oxygen they need.

There are two kinds of stroke. The most common, called ischemic stroke, is caused by a blood clot that blocks or plugs a blood vessel in the brain. The other kind of stroke, called hemorrhagic stroke, is caused by a blood vessel that breaks and bleeds into the brain.

On average, half the damage from a stroke happens within the first 90 minutes, 90 percent by three hours, and 99 percent by six hours. Yet, the average person waits 22 hours to get help.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke (NINDS), the especially sensitive brain cells are gone within 10 to 15 minutes, but if the blood flow is only slowed down, not cut off completely, the less sensitive brain cells can "hold their breath" for about three hours.

A University of Michigan study showed that a primary obstacle to care among African Americans was that they were less likely to arrive at the hospital in an ambulance than Whites. Only 20 percent to 25 percent of patients who are admitted to the hospital with a stroke arrive in the emergency department within three hours of the onset of symptoms.