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Strokes are preventable

Stroke is the third-leading cause of death in Kentucky and the United States. However, up to 80 percent of strokes are preventable, according to the National Stroke Association. You can take steps today to lower your risk of stroke and to increase your chances of survival should a stroke occur.

A stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery, cutting off blood flow to an area of the brain. Cut off from blood and oxygen, brain cells begin to die, and abilities related to affected areas of the brain are lost. For example, a stroke that affects language centers may result in slurred speech or loss of vocabulary.

Several risk factors can increase a person's chances of having a stroke. Factors patients can control include high blood pressure, smoking, cholesterol, obesity, excess alcohol and physical inactivity. Risk factors we cannot control include age, gender, race (African-Americans, Latinos and Asians are at higher risk than Caucasians), family history of stroke or heart disease, and a prior stroke or heart attack. Because we cannot control all risks, it is important to alter behavior in the areas we can control, such as quitting smoking.

If you are at high risk for a stroke, talk to your doctor about preventive treatments such as taking an anti-platelet agent (such as aspirin). Whether or not you are considered high risk, it is very important to know the symptoms of stroke. If you experience any symptoms of stroke, seek treatment immediately.

Stroke symptoms usually come on suddenly, and include numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg — especially on one side of the body. Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding, vision problems, dizziness, trouble walking or loss of balance and coordination are also symptoms. A sudden, severe headache with no apparent cause is also a stroke warning sign.

If you suspect someone you know is having a stroke, remember the acronym "FAST." Evaluate the Face by asking the person to smile and check to see if one side of the face droops. Ask them to raise their Arms — does one arm drift downward? Check Speech by asking the person to repeat a sentence. Pay attention to whether they are able to repeat the words correctly. If the person displays any of these symptoms, remember Time is of the essence — they may be having a stroke. Don't wait, call 911 immediately.

The longer a patient delays evaluation and treatment, the more likely the damage from the stroke will be permanent and the chances of dying are increased drastically. I can't stress to people enough the importance of calling 911 and getting to an emergency department the moment the onset of stroke symptoms is felt.