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People of all ages can experience stroke. Here are 10 things I learned the hard way that everyone needs to know to recognize stroke for timely treatment, and to lower the risk of disability or untimely death.

For the last twenty years, I've been something of a natural health expert. I've written books and articles on nearly every imaginable natural health topic, I've formulated natural products and helped supplements companies deal with government regulation, and I've gained a reputation as something of a straight shooter. I don't make claims I can't back up. I know that the rules of honest reporting apply to my personal life, and when you start pointing people you don't know toward sources of help, you give up a lot of your personal privacy.

Lately I've also become an expert in cardiovascular disease, but not from interacting with experts and parsing the medical literature. I've become an expert in stroke but surviving not just one or two but three strokes in the same six-month period in which I had three heart attacks, three cardiac arrests, and a "blown" aneurysm. My cardiovascular issues were probably triggered by an infection, which gave me a new level of understanding about cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular health.

Two Common Kinds of Strokes

I've had both hemorrhagic stroke, the kind of brain injury caused by bleeding, and ischemic stroke, the kind of brain injury caused by a failure of circulation in the brain. Two of my strokes were silent strokes, causing damage without obvious symptoms, and but the third stroke, which was a hemorrhagic stroke due to a "brain bleed," had a house guest frantically dialing 911 and screaming that I had died.

But I hadn't. Because I was just a few blocks away from an advanced treatment facility, I not only survived a vertebrobasilar or "brain stem" stroke, a stroke in the "bridge" between the front and back of the brain, I didn't even suffer any evident permanent damage. I can wiggle my toes and turn up my nose and I still function normally throughout my entire body. While I was having the stroke, however, it didn't look like it was going to turn out that way.

What It Was Like for Me to "Stroke Out"

My brain stem stroke was unexpected. I had had normal blood pressure for at least a few weeks, since I got on medication. I was taking a blood thinner to prevent a heart attack. (I had had two in the previous two weeks.) There wasn't any reason to believe that a stroke was in my immediate future.

Nonetheless, one Sunday afternoon I excused myself for a nap from which I couldn't get up. I was still breathing, but I couldn't move a muscle. I could hear everything that was going on in the room around me, but I couldn't respond in any way. My logical mind seemed to be working just fine, but I couldn't communicate in any way.

I was experiencing "locked in" syndrome. Fortunately, I was discovered probably at almost the exact moment I had the stroke, an ambulance came in under two minutes, and an especially well equipped hospital was less than half a mile (about a kilometer) away. After getting oxygen for 20 or 30 minutes, I was able to open my eyes. After three hours and treatment with "clot busters," I was able to speak and even get up off the gurney.

As is a continuing theme in my stories of my experiences with cardiovascular health, I was an extremely lucky person. But there are ten things I wish I had known before I had a potentially fatal stroke.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • [Guideline] Del Zoppo GJ, Saver JL, Jauch EC, Adams HP Jr. Expansion of the time window for treatment of acute ischemic stroke with intravenous tissue plasminogen activator: a science advisory from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Stroke. Aug 2009. 40(8):2945-8
  • [Guideline] Goldstein LB, Bushnell CD, Adams RJ, Appel LJ, Braun LT, Chaturvedi S, et al. Guidelines for the primary prevention of stroke: a guideline for healthcare professionals from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Stroke. Feb 2011. 42(2):517-84
  • Leary MC, Saver JL. Annual incidence of first silent stroke in the United States: a preliminary estimate. Cerebrovasc Dis. 2003. 16(3):280-5
  • Shiber JR, Fontane E, Adewale A. Stroke registry: hemorrhagic vs ischemic strokes. Am J Emerg Med. Mar 2010. 28(3):331-3
  • Photo courtesy of dierkschaefer on Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/dierkschaefer/2961565820
  • Photo courtesy of playcrackthesky on Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/playcrackthesky/4520983799

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