Strokes are preventable, and the first step is knowing your risks.
"The community doesn't understand what they can do to prevent them," said Lisa Bellamy, stroke program coordinator for UKHealthCare. She has been spreading the word during May, which is stroke awareness month.
A stroke occurs when the blood flow to the brain is interrupted, and it can damage or kill blood cells.
The same things that go into protecting your overall health are needed to reduce the risk of stroke, said Dr. Greg Cooper, a neurologist with Central Baptist Hospital. That would include not smoking, eating a healthy diet and getting exercise, he said.
People are wrong to assume that a stroke happens only late in life, he said.
"We are in the stroke belt," he said. It's not uncommon to see people having strokes in their 40s and 50s, he said.
Bellamy said people need to look at the risk factors they have for stroke and work on what they can control. She said about 80 percent of strokes are preventable. UKHealthCare is offering several free stroke screenings in May.
People who can't get to a screening can ask their doctors about their risks of stroke and what they can do to stay healthy, Cooper said.
'You just need to get the conversation started," he said, "particularly when you are feeling good."
Most health problems that lead to stroke risk can be treated, especially if they are caught early.
"With most of these things," he said, "we can reduce the risk or treat the symptoms."
Bellamy said people also need to know what to look for if someone is having a stroke and act quickly. A tell-tale sign is a loss of the ability to use the muscles on one side of the body. But, she said, people who suspect a stroke has occurred should call 911.
"Everything we do to treat a stroke is time-sensitive," she said.
Mary Meehan: (859) 231-3261. Twitter: @bgmoms. Blog: BluegrassMoms.com.