Knowing the Facts About Strokes Can Save Lives

On average, a stroke occurs every 40 seconds,  says the American Stroke Association (ASA).

Even though the risk of dying from a stroke is slowing in the United States as treatments improve and more people take control of their health, it is still a serious threat to many people who do not know they are at risk. For them, a stroke can strike suddenly, without much warning.

“It is recommended by the ASA that a stroke patient get treated within 60 minutes of walking into the ER,” said Paul Damski, M.D., a neurologist and Stroke Program Medical Director for Baptist Hospital. “That is not an easy thing to do. But it gets done, especially if people understand the warning signs and act quickly.”

Stroke is  nation’s fourth leading cause of death, with about 795,000 people suffering a stroke every year.

The good news is that more individuals are aware of the risk factors, such as high blood pressure, and are doing something about it. Regular physical exams and screenings for blood pressure and overall heart disease are vital. Those with a family history of strokes should be thoroughly screened.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month, making it a good time to brush up on the warning signs and how to manage risk factors — vital information that can save lives.

It’s important to know that if you have risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, then you are at risk for a stroke. Your doctor will prescribe a program to treat these risk factors.

But it is up to you to adjust your lifestyle to reduce your chances of suffering a stroke.

Here’s a primer on stroke facts to get you started:

What is a Stroke?
A stroke, or “brain attack,” occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery or a blood vessel breaks, slowing or blocking blood flow to an area of the brain. When this happens, brain cells can begin to die and brain damage occurs.

Risk Factors
There are many risk factors for stroke that you can control. Smoking, being overweight, lack of exercise excessive use of alcohol, and a poor diet are all risk factors.

Health conditions that are contributing risk factors include: high blood pressure (hypertension), atrial fibrillation, diabetes and high cholesterol.

Risk factors that you cannot control include age, race, gender and family history.

The risk of stroke increases with age. Some ethnic groups, including African Americans and Native Americans, are found to have a higher risk for stroke. Stroke is more common in men, at least until the age of 75. Over the age of 75, more women have strokes than men.

Stroke Symptoms
The most effective treatment for stroke must be given within three hours to 4.5 hours after the onset of symptoms. It is vital to recognize the signs of a stroke so that you or someone with you can act quickly and call 9-1-1. Warning signs can signal that the brain is not getting the blood it needs.

The most widely recognized symptoms of a stroke include:

  • Numbness or weakness in the face, arms or legs, particularly on one side of the body.
  • Sudden disorientation, confusion or trouble speaking.
  • Trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Difficulty in walking, lacking coordination, dizziness or a loss of balance.
  • Severe, sudden headache without a known cause.
  • If you are with a person that has one of the warning signs, here are simple questions you can ask:

  • Ask the person to smile and notice if one side of the face droops.
  • Ask the person to raise both arms to determine if one side drifts downward.
  • Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase and determine if speech is slurred.

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