This past May was “National Stroke Awareness Month” – a time set aside to raise awareness of a leading cause of death and serious disability in the U.S.
Now that the month has passed, we think it’s a good idea to provide a quick reminder on how important it is to be informed and aware of what you can do to help minimize risk, recognize symptoms, and maybe help save a life.
A stroke, or brain attack, happens when blood flow to the brain is stopped or disrupted. It’s an emergency situation. Call 911 if you think you or someone else might be having a stroke or stroke symptoms. You have a better chance of recovering from a stroke if emergency treatment is started right away.
The brain needs a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients to work well. If blood supply is stopped even for a short time, this can cause problems. Brain cells begin to die after just a few minutes without blood or oxygen.
When brain cells die, brain function is lost. You may not be able to do things that are controlled by that part of the brain. For example, a stroke may affect your ability to move, speak, eat, swallow, and more. A stroke can have a serious impact on quality-of-life issues for both the person and their family.
Evaluating risk for a stroke
It’s important to know your risk for a stroke and what you can do to minimize it. A stroke can happen to anyone, at any age, and at any time. But your chance of having a stroke increases if you have certain risk factors.
Some of these factors can be changed or managed, while others can’t. Learn more about risk factors for stroke from the CDC.
Steps to help prevent a stroke
Making changes and living a healthier lifestyle can help reduce your risk for a stroke. That includes the following:
- Stop smoking – if you smoke.
- Make healthy food choices. Be sure to get the recommended amounts of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Choose foods that are low in animal fat, trans fat, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.
- Stay at a healthy weight.
- Be physically active on a daily basis.
- Limit alcohol use.
- Take your medicines as instructed by your healthcare provider.
A great way to start is to check out the American Heart Association’s information on five of the most important things you can do to help prevent a stroke.
Recognizing the symptoms of a stroke
A stroke is an emergency situation. It’s important to know the signs of a stroke and get help quickly. Stroke symptoms may happen suddenly, and each person’s symptoms may vary. Symptoms may include:
- Weakness, drooping, or numbness of the face, arm, or leg, usually on one side of the body.
- Having trouble reading, speaking, or understanding.
- Problems with vision, such as dimness or loss of vision in one or both eyes.
- Dizziness or problems with balance or coordination.
- Problems with movement or walking.
- Fainting (loss of consciousness) or seizure.
- Severe headaches with no known cause, especially if they happen suddenly.
Other less common symptoms of stroke may include:
- Sudden nausea or vomiting not caused by a viral illness.
- Brief loss or change of consciousness, such as fainting, confusion, seizures, or coma.
- TIA (mini-stroke).
The acronym “FAST” is an easy way to remember the signs of a stroke. When you see these signs, you will know that you need to call 911 fast. FAST stands for:
- F – Face drooping.One side of the face is drooping or numb. When the person smiles, the smile is uneven.
- A – Arm weakness.One arm is weak or numb. When the person lifts both arms at the same time, one arm may drift downward.
- S – Speech difficulty.You may hear slurred speech or difficulty speaking. The person can’t repeat a simple sentence correctly when asked.
- T – Time to call 911.If someone shows any of these symptoms, call 911 right away. Call even if the symptom goes away. Make note of the time the symptoms first appeared.
Remember: If you can learn to “Spot a Stroke F.A.S.T.” – you could possibly save the life of someone you know and love.