This month, people across the United States will recognize National Stroke Awareness Month, which is dedicated to promoting public awareness of stroke and reducing the incidence of stroke. Each year, nearly 800,000 people experience a stroke, and more than 133,000 Americans die as a result. Because 80 percent of strokes are preventable, it’s important to learn about strokes and how you can take action to save lives.
A stroke occurs when blood flow to an area of the brain is cut off. When this happens, brain cells begin to die, and abilities controlled by that section of the brain, such as memory and muscle control, are affected — sometimes leading to serious long-term disability. Those who have suffered a stroke might have weakness of an arm or leg, can be paralyzed on one side of their body or lose their ability to speak.
Knowing the warning signs of a stroke is important, and 73 percent of Americans aren’t familiar with symptoms, according to the National Stroke Association. Four letters — F-A-S-T — can help you quickly spot symptoms of a stroke. This stands for face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty and time (to call 911).
In addition to those symptoms — a person’s smile appearing uneven, their face feeling numb, one arm drooping downward or slurred speech — additional signs might include impaired vision, sudden headache, loss of balance or dizziness. Symptoms can vary depending on whether the stroke is caused by a blood clot (ischemic stroke) or bleeding (hemorrhagic stroke). However, anyone experiencing any stroke symptoms should call emergency responders right away, even if the symptoms go away.
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Some strokes are sudden, but others might be minor. Those are known as transient ischemic attacks, which cause stroke-like symptoms that often last only minutes. However, these attacks are a warning sign for an upcoming, more damaging stroke that could occur within days or months.
Nearly 85 percent of strokes that occur in the United States are ischemic strokes and can be treated with a medication called tissue plasminogen activator, which dissolves the clot and improves blood flow to the brain. The drug, also known as tPA, can improve the chances of recovering from a stroke, but it must be administered within three hours of the stroke or it can’t be used. Doctors might also consider an endovascular procedure, in which a catheter is inserted into the blocked blood vessel in the brain to help remove the blood clot.
Risk factors for stroke include obesity, diabetes, smoking and high blood pressure, among others. To help prevent a stroke, keep your blood pressure levels low, stop smoking, keep blood sugar controlled if you have diabetes, eat healthy foods, and get regular physical activity.
During Stroke Awareness Month, take time to teach your loved ones about the symptoms of stroke, and the importance of seeking help when experiencing symptoms. It could save their life.
Dr. Alam Khan is with KentuckyOne Health Neurology Associates.