Beating stroke before it strikes

Just one day after ringing in the new year and a few weeks before his scheduled annual physical, Elwood Franklin, age 63, had a stroke while on the job as a bus driver with Transportation Authority of River City (TARC).

“There were no major signs or symptoms earlier in the day,” said Franklin, recounting the events leading up to his stroke. “I was driving my route for TARC and couldn’t move the pedals. My foot was not responding to the messages my brain was sending it.”

Recognizing something wasn’t right, Franklin called for relief. He would later discover he was in the process of having a stroke.

Strokes are the No. 1 cause of disability and the No. 4 cause of death among adults in the United States, according to Nadeem A. Talpur, M.D., neurologist and stroke specialist.

“Strokes are life-threatening and must be treated immediately,” Dr. Talpur said. “Time is very important to limiting the lasting effects of stroke. The sooner you seek treatment, the better the outcomes.”

According to Dr. Talpur, the ideal time line for stroke treatment is no longer than three hours.

But, what tops that is prevention to avoid a stroke in the first place.

Stroke prevention

Anyone can have a stroke, regardless of age, race or gender. But the chance of having a stroke increases if you have certain risk factors.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month, a time set aside to raise awareness about stroke prevention. It’s a good time to take a look at your health to determine if you are at risk for stroke and what changes you can make to reduce your risk. According to the National Stroke Association, up to 80 percent of all strokes can be avoided through preventive measures.

“Stroke risk can be controlled easier than one might think,” Dr. Talpur said. “With the help of a doctor, many diseases that increase risk can be treated and unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as poor diet and smoking, can be changed to reduce the risk for stroke.”

The biggest underlying risk factors for stroke are high blood pressure and diabetes. Dr. Talpur advises anyone with these conditions or at risk for developing them to work with their doctor to make lifestyle changes and/or begin taking medication.

The National Stroke Association offers the following guidelines for stroke prevention. Speak with your physician about how you can:

  • Know your blood pressure numbers.
  • Find out if you have atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm condition.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Manage alcohol use.
  • Know your cholesterol levels.
  • Manage diabetes.
  • Stay active and maintain a healthy diet.
  • Seek treatment for circulation issues.

Franklin is on the road to recovery. While he said he isn’t back to 100 percent, he is progressing and pleased with his current status. He is working to manage his weight through exercise and incorporating better eating habits. Franklin will continue to take medication and maintain a healthy lifestyle to avoid another stroke or other cardiovascular issue in the future.

“I don’t know how this will affect me down the line,” Franklin said. “But I know that God gave me another chance to serve him better, and I’m going to take advantage of that.”