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Arthritis and Stroke Awareness

May is both National Arthritis and National Stroke Awareness Month. While the two may not seem to be related, they do share some similarities: anyone can be affected, the occurrence of both conditions increases with age, and the actions you can take to help one condition can help or prevent the other.

With more than 100 types and related conditions, arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. Interestingly, geography may be a factor as those in rural areas are somewhat more prone to arthritis than urban dwellers. The most common symptoms of arthritis include: joint swelling, joint pain, stiffness, and diminished range of motion.

While the symptoms above are primarily associated with osteoarthritis, other forms of arthritis include gout (a type often associated with diet and shows up as severe joint pain), autoimmune (marked by inflammation and can affect the heart, lungs, kidneys, eyes, and skin), and arthritis caused by bacteria entering a cut or sore. Arthritis is considered severe when chronic pain makes it difficult to perform routine activities such as walking, dressing, cooking, and climbing stairs. While the visible symptoms of arthritis include knobby finger joints, arthritis can be invisible and detected only through X-ray or MRI.

A treatment that might be right for one person may not be effective for another, though walking is proven to improve arthritis pain, fatigue, function, and quality of life. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends all adults (including those with arthritis) get two and a half hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, which can include brisk walking.

Exercise and physical activity are where arthritis treatment and stroke prevention cross paths. Maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, limiting stress, and regular exercise can all help control inflammation, protect joints, and contribute to your overall health which in turn can help prevent strokes.

Strokes happen when oxygen-rich arteries supplying the brain are constricted or obstructed, as by a blood clot. It may come as a surprise, but 80% of strokes are preventable. There are certain risk factors you can control to decrease your chances of a stroke. Risk factors under your control include:

  • Blood Pressure – High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a leading cause of stroke and the most significant controllable risk factor.
  • Smoking – If you smoke, quit. The nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke damages the cardiovascular system and paves the way for a stroke. It’s also important to note that the use of birth control pills combined with cigarette smoke can greatly increase the risk of stroke.
  • Diabetes – If you have diabetes, control your blood sugar. While diabetes is treatable, the presence of the disease still increases your risk of stroke.
  • Diet – Diets high in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol can raise blood cholesterol levels. Those high in sodium and those high in calories can increase blood pressure and lead to obesity, respectively. High blood cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and obesity all increase your risk of stroke. A diet containing five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day may reduce the risk of stroke. The American Heart Association outlines healthy diet and lifestyle recommendations to reduce the risk of stroke and cardiovascular diseases.
  • Physical Activity – As previously mentioned, it’s recommended that adults get at least two and a half hours of physical activity per week. If that number seems too daunting, start by simply focusing on moving more and sitting less. 

It’s important to note that several types of heart disease are risk factors for strokes. People with coronary heart disease, angina, heart failure, or those who have had a heart attack due to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) have more than twice the risk of stroke.

Stroke Symptoms
A stroke is a medical emergency. The sooner you seek treatment, the better. Call 911 immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden drooping of the mouth while trying to smile
  • Sudden change of vision: blurred, blackened, or double-vision in one or both eyes
  • Sudden severe or persistent headache
  • Sudden loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden trouble with speaking or understanding speech

For help managing arthritis or for questions regarding your possible risk for stroke, call Freestone Medical Center at (903) 389-2181 to schedule an appointment with one of our practitioners.