May marks National Stroke Awareness Month, a time when the spotlight shines on the dangers of strokes, the potential symptoms, and the aftereffects. Physicians, hospitals, and organizations such as the National Stroke Association offer resources to help educate patients and caregivers, with the hope that doing so will help them avoid or quickly recognize strokes. Part of this is highlighting common risk factors such as smoking, poor diet, being overweight, or being physically inactive. Getting these under control is a major part of reducing stroke risk. However, there are other risk factors that you are probably less familiar with that can also be very hazardous to health.
Peripheral Artery Disease and Stroke
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a condition in which blood vessels of the legs or arms are narrowed by plaque buildup. Those who have PAD are at an increased risk of suffering a stroke, heart disease, or even limb amputation. Unfortunately, despite afflicting 17 – 20 million people, few are familiar with the disease. As it can set in quietly, it’s important for those at risk of PAD to be especially aware of potential symptoms such as leg pain, weak pulse in the legs and feet, and slow hair growth on the legs.
Carotid Artery Disease and Stroke
Carotid artery disease (CAD) is marked by narrowed arteries, specifically, the carotid arteries in the neck which feed your brain’s blood supply. Given the proximity of these arteries to the brain, this condition is particularly dangerous, leading to more than half of all strokes in the U.S. Again, this is a condition that is often without symptoms. However, strokes that do occur may include weakness or numbness on one side of the face or body, trouble speaking, dizziness, and headache.
Atrial Fibrillation and Stroke
Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common form of heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), affecting over 2.5 million Americans. This abnormal heart rhythm can affect blood flow and lead to complications such as heart failure, blood clots, and stroke. In fact, those with AFib are five times more likely to suffer a stroke than those without. Symptoms are not always present, but the most commonly noted is a quivering or fluttering heartbeat.
Each of the above mentioned risk factors can greatly impact the likelihood of stroke but are not always obvious. The associated symptoms may be minor, or there may be no symptoms at all. The best course of action is to understand the factors that may put you at an increased risk of developing PAD, CAD, or AFib. Discuss these risks with your primary care physician or cardiologist, and together, you can develop a plan to help keep your cardiovascular health on track.