Stroke photo

May is National Stroke Awareness Month

Strokes are the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. According to the American Heart Association, someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds, accounting for one out of every 19 deaths in the country.

But it’s important to note that strokes are 80 percent preventable if you understand the risks and know what warning signs and symptoms to monitor for. The most effective way to reduce your risk of death from stroke is to prevent a stroke from ever happening in the first place. 

A stroke is a cerebrovascular disease that can affect a person’s mobility, speech, and in some cases results in death. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel is blocked or bleeds, interrupting the blood supply to the brain. As a result, the stroke damages brain cells so they can no longer work properly, thus impacting the areas of the body those cells control.

Every year, more than 795,000 Americans experience a stroke — a majority for the first time. And although the risk of a stroke increases with age, about 34% of all people hospitalized for stroke are younger than 65. Other factors like gender and hereditary history also play a big role. For instance, women are at higher risk than men to suffer from a stroke and people with a family history may also be more susceptible. But strokes can impact people of all ages and backgrounds. 

But one thing we do know is that the faster a stroke is treated, the more likely the patient is to recover. Stroke patients who are treated with the clot-busting drug (tPA) within 90 minutes of their first symptoms are almost three times more likely to recover with little or no disability. Thus, it’s imperative to understand the signs of stroke in order to get help quickly and prevent serious disability. 

While symptoms can vary depending on the particular area of the brain that is affected, the most common warning signs include:

  • Weakness or paralysis in the face, arm, or leg: Many patients experience droopiness on one side of their face or sudden numbness in their arm.
  • Trouble walking: Balance and coordination may be off, resulting in trouble moving.
  • Difficulty speaking: Speech may become slurred and hard to understand.
  • Vision loss, dizziness; Patients may experience loss of sight or extreme light-headiness.

The acronym F.A.S.T. can help you remember the warning signs of stroke — it stands for: Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, Time to call 911. 

There are also several preventative measures you can take to reduce the risk of a stroke, including:

  • Lowering blood pressure. High blood pressure is the biggest contributor to elevating the risk of a stroke. Monitor your blood pressure closely.
  • Eating a healthy and balanced diet. Eating a balanced diet with increased polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and reducing your salt intake is another way to lower your risk.
  • Regular exercise. Staying active contributes to a healthier lifestyle and lowers blood pressure. 
  • Avoid smoking and limit alcohol consumption. Smoking accelerates the formation of clots, and excessive drinking has been proven through studies to increase your risk of a stroke. 

If you are experiencing warning signs of a stroke or need medical advice to reduce your risk of a stroke, you should connect with a specialist. To find a specialist in our network, please visit Steward DoctorFinder™ or call 800-488-5959.

Daniel Lai, MD, is a neurologist with Stewart Medical Group in Melbourne