Before You Have a Stroke

Cicely Tyson makes a case for prevention.


We’ve all heard the phrase “serious as a heart attack.” Well, a stroke is no joke either. Sometimes called a “brain attack,” a stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is cut off, typically due to a blood clot blocking an artery. Once the arterial passage way is completely closed, a clock starts ticking. At that point, brain cells are deprived of the oxygen and the glucose they need to survive, and you have about four minutes until cells start to die. If you don’t get help fast, you can suffer permanent brain damage. Or it could be deadly.

Sometimes it begins with an excruciating pain behind your eyeballs. Or maybe with an extra-strength migraine. Your head feels like it’s being squeezed in a vise. Eyes won’t focus. Everything is blurry.

This is what it feels like when you’re having a stroke.

Understanding stroke and its causes and symptoms is vital to improving the health of the nation. It’s the third leading cause of death and a leading cause of disability for all Americans. But African Americans are disproportionately afflicted by stroke. Blacks are twice as likely as other ethnic groups to have a stroke, and they have a higher death rate from it due to increased risk factors like family history, diabetes and high blood pressure.

And while the statistics are harsh, a stroke can be prevented. That’s the message Cicely Tyson wants to send by teaming up with the American Stroke Association. As the spokesperson leading the campaign, Power To End Stroke, the indomitable stage and screen legend is passionate about improving health and promoting wellness.

She believes that in order to thrive mentally and physically, you must care for your body. As a health advocate, she’s made it her mission to teach people how to recognize symptoms of stroke and promotes lifestyle changes to prevent people from becoming stroke victims.

“In my work traveling and speaking with people, I found that so many of us didn’t understand the impact of our unhealthy lifestyle. We need to dedicate ourselves to practicing good self care like eating right and getting regular checkups to lower our risk for stroke. And not just for ourselves. Stroke effects more than the person afflicted, it also has a devastating effect on their family and our community.”

Know Your Numbers To Lower Your Risk Factors

When it comes to risk factors, there are things that we can’t change like genetics and heredity. But there are things that we can do to reverse the trend. The No. 1 controllable factor is high blood pressure, one of leading cause of stroke. High blood pressure is another area in which African Americans top the statistical charts; 40 percent of African Americans have been diagnosed with hypertension.

Unfortunately, having “pressure,” along with “a little sugar” has become almost commonplace in our community. But we can’t continue to be complacent about these conditions. Hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol are the Big, Bad Three conditions that greatly increase the risk for stroke and heart disease. It is important to know your numbers by getting an annual physical with blood tests. According to Dr. Rani Whitfield, “Tha Hip-Hop Doc,” we wait too long to see a doctor.