May is American Stroke Month in the United States, and its observance began in the late 1980s in hopes of raising awareness about the prevalence of stroke in the U.S., its warning signs, and stroke prevention. In 2013, the most recent year for which complete data exists, stroke killed 128,978 people and was nearly the 4th leading cause of death in the United States.
Although stroke is a huge problem in America, the good news is that stroke is preventable, and being able to spot the early warning signs of stroke can help reduce or even prevent the long-term negative health effects if someone does suffer from a stroke.
What is Stroke?
When a blood vessel carrying nutrients and oxygen to the brain becomes blocked (like with a clot) or ruptures, a stroke occurs since part of the brain cannot receive the blood it needs to function. If that part of the brain is deprived of blood for any substantial amount of time, cells begin to die. There are many different types of stroke, but all of them are serious. Learning about the warning signs of stroke can help reduce or prevent the damage a stroke can cause.
Warning Signs of a Stroke
If you can remember the acronym FAST, you can help identify the warning signs of stroke:
- Face drooping: If a person is suffering from a stroke, one side of their face may droop or go numb. You can ask someone to smile and see if their smile is uneven to determine if their face is drooping.
- Arm weakness: When someone suffers from a stroke, one arm will often become less responsive. If one of a person’s arms is weak or numb, they may be suffering from a stroke. Ask them to lift both arms to see if they are equally strong.
- Speech difficulty: Having a stroke can interfere with a person’s ability to communicate. If someone is suffering from a stroke, their speech may become slurred or they may become difficult to understand. Have a person repeat a simple sentence like “the grass is greener on the other side” to see if they can repeat it clearly and accurately.
- Time to call 9-1-1: If someone exhibits any or all of the symptoms listed above – even if they go away – make sure to call 9-1-1 and/or get the person to a hospital immediately. Make note of the time so that you know when the person’s symptoms first started showing.
Armed with knowledge about how to recognize a stroke, you can help someone get help immediately. You may even be able to save a life!
Hopefully you will never need to recognize the signs of stroke since many instances of stroke are preventable. Below are some of the ways that you can reduce your risk for stroke:
- Improving your diet – implementing a healthy diet can help reduce the risk for many diseases and can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight. To start improving your diet, you can eat more plant foods like vegetables, fruits, and nuts. You can also swap seafood into your meals instead of red meat. It’s also a good idea to reduce your intake of sodium, fats, and sugars.
- Physical activity – increasing the amount of physical activity you partake in can have drastic positive effects on your health. Although many people think they have to set an hour aside to work out every day, that’s truly not the case. Any physical activity you can incorporate into your day will help improve your health, so if you don’t have 30 minutes to devote to exercise at one time, try exercising for 10 minutes on three separate occasions during the day. Most importantly, make physical activity fun! Partake in activities you enjoy with people you like spending time with.
- Positive lifestyle choices – smoking doubles a person’s risk for stroke, and although quitting smoking can be incredibly difficult, it can make an immediate difference on your health and wellbeing. Drinking in excess has also been linked to stroke; if you choose to partake, drink in moderation by trying to have no more than one drink per day if you’re a woman and two drinks if you’re a male.
No matter what stage of life you’re in, you can make positive steps to reduce your risk for stroke. And recognizing the warning signs of stroke – FAST – can provide you with knowledge to help someone who is in need. This May, consider how big the problem of stroke is in the United States and start taking steps to reduce your risk.
American Heart Association. (2015). American Heart Association and American Stroke Association: Life is Why. Retrieved from https://www.strokeassociation.org/STROKEORG/
National Stroke Association. (2014). National Stroke Association. Retrieved from https://www.stroke.org/