May is National Stroke Awareness Month, and the goal is to raise awareness of the causes and effects of stroke. This year, the goal is to help reduce stroke risk and take people behind the scenes of what happens when someone experiences a stroke.
What is a stroke?
A stroke happens when blood flow to the brain is blocked or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. As blood carries oxygen to cells in the body, when those brain cells are not getting blood, they die. It’s important to get care as quickly as possible if a stroke occurs. A delay could lead to permanent brain damage or even death.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds. Every year more than 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke. About 610,000 of these are first or new strokes. For Black women, stroke is the leading cause of death.
Why is the risk higher for Black women?
The American Heart Association says there is a genetic component that makes Black women more sensitive to salt, including the reasons and risk factors behind their higher predisposition to heart diseases, like diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.
For generations, Black women have often taken on the “superwoman” cape, putting the needs of their families, children, and significant others first and placing themselves last. It’s cultural and almost expected in the Black community. However, it seriously affects our health.
As I thought more about this, I started to think about how this is true for all women, including women veterans. Women are the fastest-growing group of veterans, and it’s expected to increase over the next 25 years. Thankfully, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the American Heart Association are working together to better understand women veterans’ risks of heart disease and help them to lead healthier lives.
As a military veteran myself, I know that women are trained to be stoic. However, that mindset may be part of the reason why some women put off seeing a doctor or delay taking care of their health. Women veterans must get the holistic care they deserve.
Truth is, women are disproportionately affected during extreme times. The pandemic is no different. Women are affected by overall health, unpaid work, and economics. Women are taking on more in terms of their domestic responsibilities with children out of school, caretaking, and housekeeping, yet taking care of themselves is last on the list. It’s a struggle that never seems to balance out.
Ms. Juicy, former star of Little Women Atlanta, has been hospitalized in the Intensive Care Unit since April. The 50-year-old suffered a stroke but is now officially out of the ICU and on the road to recovery.
Years ago, I listened to a family friend tell me how her doctor urged her to stop eating fried foods and lower her salt intake. The doctor also discussed some ways to improve her overall health, mainly by getting active, even if it was just a daily walk. It was a warning that she didn’t implement in time. After having a massive stroke, she’s now unable to move the left side of her body and needs care around the clock.
Oftentimes, we know that we need to make changes but continue on with the same routine. It’s only then after something drastic happens that we realize we need to make changes.
What are the signs of a stroke?
One campaign that I’ve always remembered is FAST, teaching the world to know the symptoms of stroke and how to respond to it quickly to help save a life.
- Face – By asking the person to smile, you can tell immediately if one side of the face droops.
- Arm – Ask the person to raise both arms. You can observe to see if one arm drifts lower than the other.
- Speech – Slurred speech is a symptom of stroke. Ask the person to repeat a single sentence.
- Time – Call 9-1-1 fast. Time may be the difference between life and death or even partial and full recovery.
You can watch the video Stroke: It Happens to gain a better understanding of what a stroke looks like.
How Can You Reduce Your Risks?
While a stroke can be alarming, there is good news — up to 80% of strokes can be prevented according to the CDC. Adopting a healthy lifestyle is one of the best ways to prevent stroke. Here are a few recommendations that could help prevent stroke in your life:
Controlling the high blood pressure. Exercising regularly, managing stress, and maintaining a healthy weight by limiting sodium and alcohol. Eating fruits and vegetables, adding in olive oil, nuts, and whole grains. Lowering cholesterol and saturated fat in your diet can also reduce the plaque in your arteries and improve health. Last but not least, quitting tobacco lowers the risk for you and those you live with who breathe in secondhand smoke.
Though Black women are generally diagnosed with risk factors that lead to strokes more often than other ethnicities, I think it’s safe to say that we could do a better job of managing those risks. Health experts also advise being up to date with doctor’s visits so they can pick up on any changes in your health.
What's Your Reaction?
Archuleta is an author, poet, blogger, and host of the FearlessINK podcast. Archuleta's work centers Black women, mental health and wellness, and inspiring people to live their fullest potential.