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Stroke Awareness Month and Increasing Dialogue About the Signs and Risk Factors

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May is stroke awareness month, a time to reflect on the millions of people and their loved ones affected by this dangerous medical emergency. One American has a stroke every 40 seconds, and every four minutes, a stroke takes a victim’s life. Many of the risk factors that can lead to stroke can be avoided with simple lifestyle changes. This month, commit to understanding the risks and symptoms of stroke and making the wellness changes needed to minimize your chances of suffering a dangerous and potentially deadly stroke.

What is a Stroke?

When a blood vessel carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain becomes blocked by a clot or bursts, the brain cannot receive the necessary amount of blood and oxygen it needs to perform optimally. As a result, brain cells die. This occurrence, known as a stroke, can result in temporary or permanent disability or possibly death.

Stroke Risk Factors

Many risk factors that can lead to stroke are avoidable. Some, unfortunately, are genetic or otherwise not preventable. Stroke risk factors include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Diets high in saturated fat
  • A physically inactive lifestyle
  • Obesity
  • Being age 65 or over
  • Family history of stroke
  • Race, as African Americans are at a higher risk of stroke than Caucasians
  • Gender, as women are at a greater risk of stroke than men
  • Having suffered a previous heart attack, transient ischemic attacks (TIA), or stroke
  • Carotid artery disease, peripheral artery disease, atrial fibrillation, and other forms of heart disease
  • Sickle cell anemia

The Signs and Symptoms of Stroke

Acting quickly at the sign of a stroke can be the difference between recovering fully and being left with a long, difficult permanent disability or losing one’s life. Signs of a stroke may include the following sudden symptoms:

  • Numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Confusion, difficulty speaking, or understanding speech
  • Severe headache
  • Trouble walking, dizziness, a lack of coordination, or a loss of balance
  • Difficulty seeing out of one or both eyes

What to Do if You Believe You May be Suffering a Stroke

If you believe you may be having a stroke, or if you believe you are witnessing stroke symptoms in a loved one, follow these emergency safety steps:

  • Call 911 and allow emergency responders to assess the situation and provide appropriate treatment
  • Note when you first began to see symptoms and provide the information to emergency responders
    • Assessing the time symptoms first presented is critical because a clot-busting medication called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), if given to a patient within four-and-a-half hours of the start of symptoms, can help to reverse stroke symptoms
  • Perform CPR if the patient is unconscious, not breathing, or does not have a pulse

Final Words of Wellness

Stroke is the number five cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States. With such a high prevalence of stroke cases in our country, everyone should understand the risk factors that can increase one’s chances of experiencing a stroke and the symptoms that must be acted upon quickly to prevent disability or death. During Stroke Awareness Month, we are committed to increasing the dialogue around stroke, supporting sufferers of the condition, and educating our communities so that strokes claim fewer victims—fewer fathers, mothers, friends, and loved ones.