A stroke can happen to anyone at any age and, in fact, is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the signs and symptoms, leading to delayed treatment, or how to potentially prevent a stroke from happening. May is American Stroke Awareness Month, making it the perfect time to educate yourself and loved ones to potentially save a life.

What is a Stroke?
Each year, around 800,000 Americans will have a stroke – every 40 seconds, someone will experience one. A stroke occurs when blood flow to an area of the brain is cut off, depriving cells of oxygen that results in death of the cells. Strokes may result in the individual losing their ability to speak, impair movement or memory. There are two different types of stroke: hemorrhagic and ischemic.

  • Hemorrhagic Stroke: This occurs when either a brain aneurysm bursts or a weakened blood vessel within the brain leaks. The blood is released into or around the brain causing swelling and pressure that results in tissue and cell damage.
  • Ischemic Stroke: These will occur if a blood vessel to the brain is blocked by a blood clot, resulting in blood being unable to reach the brain. Individuals with high blood pressure are the most at risk of this type of stroke, and it accounts for 87% of all strokes.
    • Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA): Much like an ischemic stroke, these occur when blood flow to part of the brain is stopped for a short period of time. The individual will exhibit stroke-like symptoms, but will last less than 24 hours and generally will not result in permanent brain damage. However, these indicate a strong sign a stroke may occur in the future, so treatment and management is vital.

Identifying a Stroke
Prompt medical attention is essential for the best long-term outcome during a stroke. Ideally, one should arrive to an ER within three hours of the onset of symptoms. A simple key to remembering what to look for is knowing the acronym FAST.

  • F – Face: Ask the individual to smile. Look for any signs of drooping on one side.
  • A – Arms: Ask them to raise both arms. One may drift downward.
  • S – Speech: Have the person repeat a simple sentence, and be aware of any slurred speech.
  • T – Time: If any of these symptoms are present, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Of course, if you aren’t sure, calling for medical assistance is always a good idea to rule out the possibility of a stroke and receive necessary treatment in a timely manner. Being able to recognize signs of a stroke can help prevent worsening brain damage and death.

Preventing a Stroke
While strokes can seemingly strike anyone at any time, up to 80% of them can be prevented. Many people may reduce their risk of stroke by making simple lifestyle changes, such as eating healthy, being physically active, not smoking, and reducing alcohol intake. Other risk factors may be due to unmanaged medical conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Unfortunately, some individuals may be at risk due to uncontrollable circumstances, including age, gender, ethnicity, family history, and more.

Encourage friends and family to make their health a priority to help prevent the risk of stroke, but be educated on how to identify a stroke and what to do should one occur. Together, we can help prevent adult long-term disability and potentially save lives.

Again, if you or someone you know is exhibiting the signs of a stroke, call 9-1-1 immediately. For more information and resources, visit www.dcmh.net