May is American Stroke Month, a time to raise awareness and educate on how to prevent and recognize the warning signs of a stroke before it happens. Having a stroke is the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer in the United States. It afflicts about 700,000 Americans per year and is also one of the leading causes of disability and dementia.
The good news: Strokes can be prevented. With good health, nutrition and daily exercise, the risk of stroke is much less.
What is a stroke?
People experience a stroke when the blood flow to the brain is interrupted or severely limited, effectively cutting off oxygen to the brain. This can hamper, slow or even stop bodily functions such as movement, perception, speech and consciousness. A stroke is not to be confused with a heart attack, which is when the blood supply to the heart is reduced or cut off.
Symptoms of a stroke
It is important to recognize and respond to stroke symptoms as early as possible for a greater chance of survival. Here are the major stroke warning signs:
- Sudden numbness, tingling, weakness or paralysis in the face, arms or legs, especially on only one side of the body
- Sudden confusion
- Trouble speaking or understanding or losing the ability to read, write and speak
- Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Trouble with coordination that includes dizziness and loss of balance
- Sudden, severe headache lasting longer than normal.
A stroke usually comes on suddenly but can also occur over several hours. It is not always easy to recognize symptoms of a stroke – especially a small stroke.
Recognizing a Stroke
If you’re like most Americans, you probably do not know any of the warning signs of a stroke. Sometimes symptoms of a stroke are difficult to identify. Unfortunately, the lack of awareness spells disaster. The stroke victim may suffer severe brain damage when people nearby fail to recognize the symptoms of a stroke. Now doctors say a bystander can recognize a stroke by asking three simple questions:
1. S – Ask the individual to SMILE.
2. T – Ask the person to TALK, to SPEAK A SIMPLE SENTENCE.
(Coherently) (i.e. . . It is sunny out today.)
3. R – Ask him or her to RAISE BOTH ARMS.
If he or she has trouble with any one of these tasks or if there is any doubt, call 911 immediately and describe the symptoms to the dispatcher. Do not take any chances.
Stroke prevention guidelines
There’s more good news: Up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented! Although no one is immune, different risk factors can increase the chances of having one. These stroke prevention guidelines by the National Stroke Association Stroke Prevention Advisory Board will help you learn how to lessen your stroke risk. Talk to a healthcare professional and follow these guidelines:
Treat high blood pressure (hypertension). High blood pressure is a major stroke risk factor if left untreated. Have your blood pressure checked yearly. If your blood pressure is high, take measures to lower it immediately following directions from your doctor. A healthy diet and daily exercise can help decrease high blood pressure levels.
Stop smoking. Smoking doubles the risk of stroke. It damages blood vessel walls, speeds up artery clogging, raises blood pressure and makes the heart work harder to pump blood to the brain and body.
If you have an increased risk of stroke due to high blood pressure or another medical condition, don’t take any chances. Wearing a medical ID bracelet or other identifier can help alert medical providers to your situation in the event of an emergency. A brief description of vital medical facts engraved on your medical ID ensures appropriate and timely medical care. Wearing a simple, stylish bracelet, necklace or even keychain from American Medical ID may help save your life. They also make the perfect gift for someone you care about!