Each year, one of every 20 U.S. deaths, which encompasses around 140,000 people, is caused by a stroke. Nearly nine in 10 of these strokes are ischemic strokes, which occur when blood flow to the brain is limited or blocked. This blockage deprives the brain of vital oxygen and nutrients, killing brain cells within minutes. The longer a stroke patient goes without treatment, the greater the chance of serious complications such as permanent disability or death.
As medical knowledge has expanded, professionals have created increasingly high-tech medical devices to combat the impact of a stroke. This includes the development and use of mobile stroke units, which are similar to ambulances but specifically contain everything needed to diagnose and treat a stroke before the patient arrives at the hospital. In addition to innovative treatment methods like the mobile stroke unit, researchers have been able to identify previously unknown risk factors that increase someone’s likelihood of having a stroke:
- Severe Migraines: A decades-long study of individuals with migraines has revealed that people with severe migraines with visual aura have a moderately increased risk of having a stroke. This is caused by the close relationship between migraines and atrial fibrillation (a leading cause of stroke). In fact, the stroke rate of patients who experience migraines with aura is twice as high as migraine patients who do not experience aura. With this discovery in mind, it is possible that future migraine patients with visual aura will be screened earlier for atrial fibrillation.
- Infections: New research suggests that there is a connection between infections and heart attack/stroke risk. Based on data from 2,039 study participants, 30 percent of individuals who had a stroke had experienced an infection before it happened; this is likely the result of white blood cells (that attack the infection) forming blood clots, which have long been recognized as a major cause of strokes. Two of the most common infections that relate to stroke risk are pneumonia and urinary tract infections (UTI).
- High Sodium Intake: While it has been previously established that high blood pressure from a high salt diet increases stroke risk, new research indicates that sodium intake may be linked to stroke even without an increase in blood pressure. In the past few years, medical research has shown that immune signals sent from the gut can compromise the brain’s blood vessels, causing a deterioration in health. This connection between the gut and the brain means that sodium intake has the potential increase stroke risk regardless of blood pressure level. Reducing sodium intake to about five grams per day may be a valuable preventative measure to decrease stroke risk (globally, the average adult consumes around double this every day).
As one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., advances in stroke prevention and treatment methods are fundamental for public health. As medical research continues to progress, discoveries like these will be pivotal in establishing new guidelines that save people’s lives.
Both an Emory School of Law graduate and MBA graduate of Goizueta Business School at Emory, Chris Nace focuses his practice on areas of medical malpractice, drug and product liability, motor vehicle accidents, wrongful death, employment discrimination and other negligence and personal injury matters.