On average, a stroke occurs every 40 seconds in the United States. Because May is recognized as National Stroke Awareness Month, now is a great time to think about stroke and its risk factors.
A stroke occurs when vital blood flow and oxygen to the brain are cut off. Stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death in America and can happen to anyone at any time.
When a blood clot blocks an artery, or a blood vessel breaks, blood flow to the brain is interrupted, brain cells begin to be affected and brain damage occurs. As brain cells die during a stroke, abilities such as speech, movement and memory can be lost. Stroke patients are affected in different ways, depending on where the stroke occurs in the brain and how much of the brain is damaged.
One of the most important things you can teach yourself is how to tell if someone is having a stroke. The acronym FAST can help to recognize the signs of a stroke and remind you to act quickly.
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▪ Face drooping: Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile.
▪ Arm weakness: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
▪ Speech difficulty: Is speech slurred, are they unable to speak or are they hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence.
▪ Time: If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if they go away, call 911 and get them to the hospital immediately.
Beyond this acronym, you should be aware of sudden numbness or weakness of one leg; sudden confusion or trouble understanding; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; sudden trouble walking; dizziness; loss of balance or coordination; or sudden severe headache with no known cause. Make sure you’re also marking down the time that these symptoms started.
If you’ve had a previous stroke, including a “mini stroke,” or if you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, atrial fibrillation or carotid artery disease, a health care professional might be able to help you control and manage your risk for stroke.
Being overweight, smoking and drinking too much alcohol can also increase your risk for stroke. It’s important to eat healthily, quit smoking, exercise regularly and limit alcohol consumption to limit stroke risk.
Susan Maynard is a stroke nurse coordinator at Mount Nittany Medical Center.