Having a stroke can have devastating consequences. A stroke occurs when the flow of blood to the brain is disrupted. Brain tissue that is deprived of blood for more than three minutes will begin to die. Emergency treatment should be started as soon as possible and ideally within three hours after the onset of stroke symptoms. The longer the brain goes without fresh blood and oxygen, the greater the damage. Depending on what part of the brain is affected, a stroke can cause a wide range of physical and mental disabilities.
Unfortunately, having diabetes raises the risk of having a stroke. But like many potential diabetes complications, stroke is not inevitable, and the risk of having one can be lowered by identifying and addressing any risk factors you may have besides diabetes.
You may already be aware of some of your risks, but if you’re not sure about any of the items listed here, ask your doctor whether you have these risk factors.
Uncontrollable risk factors
Some of the risk factors for stroke cannot be changed by your actions. Those that cannot include the following:
Age. The likelihood of having a stroke increases after age 55.
Sex. Stroke is more common in men than women. Women, however, are more likely to die of stroke.
Heredity. People who have a family history of stroke are more likely to have a stroke than someone whose family has not had strokes. African-Americans have a higher risk of stroke than other races and a much higher risk of death from stroke, in part because of their higher rates of diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), obesity, and smoking.
Prior stroke or heart attack. People who have previously had a stroke or heart attack are at greater risk of having a stroke.
Mini-stroke. People who have had a transient ischemic attack (TIA), or a mini-stroke, are almost 10 times more likely to have a stroke than a person of the same age and sex who has not. A TIA occurs when blood flow to the brain is cut off temporarily, usually for less than five minutes. The symptoms of a TIA are the same as those of a major stroke, but a TIA causes no permanent brain damage. A TIA might seem to be insignificant, but it also should be taken seriously and treated immediately.
Because it is difficult to distinguish between a stroke and a TIA, people who think they are experiencing stroke symptoms should call 9-1-1 immediately to be taken to a hospital. Diagnostic tests will be performed at the hospital to determine whether the symptoms are from a TIA or a stroke. Treatment for a TIA depends on its underlying cause but often includes taking daily aspirin.
Risk factors you can influence
There are also many risk factors for stroke that can be treated or reduced. Those include heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, smoking, and high alcohol consumption. Treatment often involves a combination of changes in lifestyle, medicines, and possibly other forms of therapy.
Heart disease. One of the most important things people with diabetes can do to avoid stroke is find out whether they have heart disease and, if so, get treatment. While there are many types of heart disease, one that poses particular risk for stroke is atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm. Tests to diagnose atrial fibrillation include electrocardiogram, Holter monitor, and echocardiogram.