Cardiologist Dr. Nicole Weinberg demystifies the warning signs and discusses risk factors for otherwise healthy people
Story and Photograph by Courtnay Robbins
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in America. With the recent passing of actor Luke Perry, who tragically died from stroke complications at the young age of 52, heart health is at the forefront of our minds. Are strokes silent killers, or can they be detected?
Providence St. Joseph Health Center cardiologist Dr. Nicole Weinberg of the Providence Playa Vista Medical Center is an advocate for heart disease awareness. She sat down with us to explain the truth about strokes and share some simple tips for prevention and detection.
What Exactly is a Stroke?
There are two types of strokes. As Dr. Weinberg explains, “One is where you block an artery. That’s very similar to what people think about with a heart attack; it’s like a brain attack. The other kind is the bleed, where there’s a rupture or tear in a blood vessel and there’s blood flow extravagating into the brain, causing damage to the tissues.”
There are many different symptoms that signal you may be having a stroke. Difficulty speaking, vision changes, immediate onset of a severe headache, a feeling of numbness and tingling that is isolated to a particular area of the body — these are all warning signs that you may be having a stroke. “Any sort of neurologic symptoms that are not going away after a few minutes are things that you would want to go to the emergency room for,” Dr. Weinberg says.
Prevention is Key
Many strokes are preventable. Atrial fibrillation is a common heart condition that often goes unnoticed, but it is a major cause of strokes. High cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugars are also factors that contribute to the risk of stroke. Fortunately, all of these disorders can be diagnosed with simple medical screenings and treated by your doctor.
As you may have expected, exercise can lower your risk of stroke. “Exercise is the No. 1 thing for preventing disease,” says Dr. Weinberg. “It’s an important thing to note — not just for cardiovascular health, but for everything going on in your body. Exercise for cardiovascular health gives your body these little tests so you’re constantly working out your blood vessels to expand and contract. Patients that have been exercising regularly generally do better long term.”
Awareness, Awareness, Awareness
Dr. Weinberg couldn’t stress enough how much stroke education and prevention go hand-in-hand. “Our patients in this area are fit and they look like they are taking care of themselves,” she says, “but they may not be aware of some symptoms that are going on, or they may not be aware of what their risk factors for disease are. Hopefully [Luke Perry’s death] makes people pay attention to this and say, ‘Oh my gosh, if this could happen to this perfectly healthy, wonderful person, then this could also happen to me. Let me get some basic, easy screening testing done, just so I can understand what my risks are.’ This unfortunate situation will hopefully save some lives because people will be more aware.”