Happiness Can Be a Factor in Stroke Danger, says Leading US Doctor

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How happy we are can have a long-term impact on our risk of suffering a stroke, a leading US-based doctor has said ahead of World Stroke Day activities on Sunday, October 29.

Andrew Russman, D.O., Head of the Stroke Program and Medical Director of the Comprehensive Stroke Center at the Cleveland Clinic, says emotional wellbeing is often a deciding factor in whether we make healthy or unhealthy lifestyle choices. Even mild stress or feelings of unhappiness can lead to major health incidents.

“If we look at stress, as a prime example, people will very often deal with the emotional upset by making bad lifestyle choices, such as increased smoking or alcohol use, or eating junk food,” said Dr. Russman. “That leads to obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, all coming together as a significant increase in our risk of stroke.”

A stroke occurs when there is a problem getting blood to the brain, either because of a blockage or a ruptured blood vessel. When this happens, the brain does not get enough oxygen, causing brain cells to die. Stroke claims an estimated 6.2 million lives globally each year, according to the World Stroke Organization, more than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. It is also a leading cause of disability.

A number of factors increase the risk of stroke:

Excess weight — Obesity can lead to heart disease and high cholesterol, which can lead to a stroke.
Heart problems — Strokes are six times more likely to occur in people with cardiovascular disease. Atrial fibrillation, one of the most common heart rhythm problems, increases your risk of stroke by about five times.
High blood pressure — Strokes are four to six times more likely in people with hypertension.
High cholesterol — People with high cholesterol are at double the risk of having a stroke.
Heavy drinking — This increases the risk for stroke and cardiovascular disease.
Smoking — If you smoke, you double your risk for stroke compared to nonsmokers.

Dr. Russman says that while specific data on the impact of mental or emotional health on the likelihood of stroke is limited, research is emerging that shows a link. One Japanese study published earlier this year used unemployment as commonly identifiable sign that someone had experienced a period of high personal stress, and analyzed the histories of around 40,000 men and women aged 40 to 59 years.

“The results showed a clear correlation between the stress caused by job loss, and increased smoking, alcohol use, high blood pressure and diabetes, and ultimately to an increase proportion that suffered a stroke,” said Dr. Russman. “This didn’t only apply to those who experienced long-term or multiple periods of unemployement. Even just one incident of job loss increased the risk.”

When a person does experience a stroke, being able to recognize the signs can greatly increase the odds of a better outcome. Time is critical, and time saved can make the difference that allows a person to walk again, or to go home instead of going into a nursing home.

Some people will experience warning signs before a stroke occurs, which is called an ischemic attack, or a mini stroke.

To check for signs of a stroke, and to respond appropriately, always remember the words ‘BE FAST’:

B = Balance – Is the person having trouble with balance?
E = Eyes – Is the person having visual problems?
F = Face – Is there droopiness in the face?
A = Arms – Is there any weakness in the arms or legs?
S = Speech – Is the person having difficulty speaking?
T = Time – Time to call for an ambulance.

World Stroke Day is observed on October 29 each year, and is an initiative of the World Stroke Organization. It aims to underscore the serious nature and high rates of stroke, raise awareness of the prevention and treatment of the condition, and ensure better care and support for survivors.