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Be smart, not scared when it comes to fear of stroke

If you've been searching for an excuse not to exercise, Beth Lastinger's story might seem to be exactly what you've been waiting for.

An active, fit, 45-year-old woman completes a sprint triathlon and has a heart attack. What better excuse to stay on the sofa clutching the remote in terror?

Sorry, but you would be missing the point.

As you can see from her story and photos, Beth is back out there, riding bikes and paddleboarding with her boys. She's being smart and taking good care of herself.

Most times, heart attacks do not strike slim, active women in their 40s. But Beth deserves a lot of credit for speaking up. Because at any age, in any condition, all of us should know the telltale signs of heart attack and stroke.

And I don't just mean the stabbing pain or the sudden paralysis we've all seen in the movies. As Beth will tell you, heart attacks don't always speak so clearly.

And as a good friend of mine recently learned, neither do strokes.

Wendy Durand is a St. Petersburg potter in her mid 50s, active and slender. Her blood pressure was a bit high, but she thought she had it under control with medication.

Yet on the morning of Feb. 1, her forearms and calves felt numb, almost wooden. She attributed the feeling to medication she took for a pinched nerve and went about her day.

As the hours went on, her coordination got progressively worse. Her balance was off. Finally, the left side of her face went numb. At the emergency room, she was diagnosed with a mild ischemic stroke, likely from a blockage caused by a stray bit of plaque.

Fortunately, Wendy suffered no cognitive losses, and to see her walk down the street now, you'd never know what had happened. But she knows that she's now at higher risk for another stroke. So she's monitoring her blood pressure closely, cutting sodium ruthlessly and following doctor's orders faithfully.

She is recovering her strength with a regimen of physical therapy and walking. A couple of days ago, she was up to 1.2 miles.

Wendy burst out laughing when I suggested that stories like hers and Beth's might be viewed as a good excuse to skip exercise.

So should we all.

Know the signs of stroke

Stroke is the No. 3 cause of death in the United States. Like heart attacks, strokes are more common as you get older, but they can strike at any age, even in people who seem to be fit and healthy. Stroke happens when a blood vessel to the brain gets clogged or bursts. (A TIA, or transischemic attack, has similar signs, but they don't last as long.) If you have any of these signs, call 911 immediately — clot-busting drugs administered quickly in the case of a severe stroke can prevent serious disability:

• Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body, though it can occur on both sides.

• Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding

• Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

• Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination

• Sudden severe headache with no known cause

Source: American Heart Association

Be smart, not scared when it comes to fear of stroke 02/24/12 [Last modified: Friday, February 24, 2012 3:30am]

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