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It’s Time to Assess Your Stroke Risk

By on January 1, 2019

Understanding Facts, Fiction & Family History

BY: DR. JOHN McELLIGOTT, DR. JOHN’S MEDICAL SOLUTIONS

Strokes are caused by a blocked blood vessel or bleeding in the brain. They’re increasing among truckers. Doctors often blame age, diet, smoking, obesity, caffeine, and big-time inactivity; all compounded by stress. Sound familiar? One or more of these factors (usually more) apply to most truckers. This may sound a little harsh, but we all know far too well these habits and symptoms plague the profession. You need to know that you can lower your “modifiable” stroke risk factors by changing your behavior.

Many of us have “non-modifiable” stroke risks that are programmed at birth. Inherited, genetic tendencies for strokes are often overlooked. Families in general and fathers and mothers in particular pass on a mixed bag of traits to their offspring. These genetic factors can play a role in determining your risk of stroke. Some genetic disorders can cause a stroke (think sickle cell disease). It’s interesting to note that families with a history of stroke often share a common environment, lifestyle, and other stroke risks. When genetics are combined with other factors, you’re dancing with the devil and far more likely to have a stroke, regardless of age or sex. Knowing your family’s stroke history is very important for understanding your stroke risk and helping you avoid strokes, as well as other health problems.

Stroke risk can vary from family to family but can go up or down depending on age, sex, and race or ethnicity. What most people don’t know is that strokes are not limited to occurring in elderly people. One in 10 strokes occurs in folks in the general population aged 15-50. From age 55 and up, stroke occurrence doubles every 10 years. Stroke is the leading cause of disability among adults in the United States. A little less than one million strokes are reported annually. The key word is REPORTED! The most obvious reason for not reporting a stroke is death. For the living, failure to seek medical attention is another reason strokes are not reported. Truckers are tough men and women. Very often they want to “tough it out” through some of the most unbelievable conditions known to this medical provider. As a sobering reminder, 17% of stroke victims will die from a stroke. Many among the 83% that survive are left with life-altering disabilities.

Women, Take Special Note

Gender plays a significant role in stroke statistics. Women have more strokes and more die from strokes than men. One in five women in North America will have a stroke during her lifetime. Stroke is the leading cause of death among women. More than 50% of stroke victims will die from a stroke. Why? Well, there is an old bit of misinformation floating around out there that health problems associated with stroke are problems more closely associated with men, than women. At my office, we know that is simply not true.

“Knowing your family’s stroke history is very important for understanding your stroke risk.”

All too often, the result is women don’t focus on this issue as much as they should. Increased risk of stroke in women is also associated with birth control medications and pregnancy. Another contributing factor is women generally live longer, and advancing age is a huge risk factor. That said, the average age for stroke in women is now 45 and getting younger. In both sexes, anxiety and depression, what I call the “trucking syndrome,” is the gasoline poured on the fire, especially among women. So the “Queens of the Highway” need to pay special attention.

You “Kings of the Highway” also need to pay attention. Keep in mind that over 90% of drivers are male. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death among men. So what are the key issues for male and female drivers? Well, the list is long, yet easy to understand. Given the lifestyle of an OTR trucker (not to mention over-regulation), the problem is often difficult to remedy.

Stroke Symptoms

Even though women are at higher risk for stroke, the risks for stroke are similar for men and women. You have heard me say the same things over and over through the years, but they bear repeating. Stop smoking, get active and stay active, lose weight, and control diabetes and high blood pressure. The last study completed by the Saint Christopher Truckers Development & Relief Fund (SCF), involving more than 1,200 drivers, showed 80% were morbidly obese, smoked two or more packs of cigarettes a day, and took four or more medications per day (#1 was high blood pressure meds). Research involving race and ethnicity deserves special mention. Blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, and Eskimos need to know they are more likely to have strokes than Caucasians or Asians.

Here is a list of stroke symptoms you need to monitor:

  1. Trouble Seeing
  2. Loss of Balance
  3. Difficulty Speaking
  4. Weakness
  5. Facial Paralysis
  6. Pain
  7. Loss of Understanding
  8. Severe Headaches
  9. Loss of Senses (touch, smell, taste)
  10. Fatigue

What You Must Do!

Notice, I’m not saying, “can do or should do, I’m saying MUST DO!” Here’s what you MUST DO to help yourself from becoming a stroke victim. Most strokes can be prevented by keeping medical conditions under control and making significant lifestyle changes.

First, however, consult with your doctor. Prepare for your next visit by developing a list of discussion topics. Seek his or her advice on the following 10 actions. Don’t leave without agreeing upon a medically sound strategy that takes into consideration these preventive measures:

  1. Aspirin: Before taking aspirin, talk with your doctor about whether aspirin is right for you
  2. Take steps to lower your blood pressure and
    keep it down
  3. Understand and manage your cholesterol: both LDL and HDL
  4. Commit to making significant lifestyle changes
  5. Quit smoking now or don’t start
  6. Eat healthy, starting today
  7. Establish a daily exercise routine and stick to it
  8. Stay active: walk, walk, and then walk some more
  9. Lose weight; you’ll see results simply by doing
    the above
  10. Control other medical conditions such as
    diabetes and heart disease

Truckers, more than any other occupation, can go from being very healthy to being on death’s doorstep in just 20 to 30 years. Remember, people who are active and walk a lot live longer. Just as important, putting off care for a suspected stroke could be permanently debilitating and might even prematurely stamp your E-ticket to Truckers’ Heaven.

Thanks for reading my RoadKing Taking Healthcare to the Cab column, and stay tuned for more suggestions focused on establishing your roadmap to better health.

About Warren Eulgen

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