How to identify and prevent a stroke

According to the American Heart Association, someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds, affecting nearly 800,000 Americans and killing 140,000 every year. Stroke is a leading cause of death and serious disability nationwide and around the world. But it doesn’t have to be.

May is American Stroke Awareness Month, making now the ideal time to learn more about strokes, including how to identify one and how to help prevent one from occurring in the first place. It’s important to know that stroke is 80% preventable.

What’s a stroke?

A stroke is when blood flow to a part of the brain is blocked or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. Blood carries oxygen to cells in the body. When brain cells are starved of blood, they die.

Strokes often occur as a result of chronic health conditions (like an arrhythmia or heart disorders), poor health choices (like smoking, unhealthy diet and inactivity) or due to environmental factors or genetics. Those over 65 years of age are most commonly affected, but a stroke can happen at any age. In fact nearly one fourth of sufferers are under the age of 65.

Stroke is a medical emergency. It’s important to get care as soon as possible. Some treatments for stroke work only if given the first three hours after symptoms start. A delay in care can raise the risk of permanent brain damage or death.

Spotting a Stroke

In the event that you or a loved one has a stroke, knowing the warning signs and what to look for could save a life. Those are:

  • F – Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • A – Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • S – Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
  • T – Time: Time to act! If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately

How can you prevent strokes?

Take a moment to familiarize yourself with FAST, but also think about what types of lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your family’s chances of stroke. Here are a few healthy tips to get you started:

  1. Manage your blood pressure (and no, taking an occasional reading at the pharmacy isn’t enough). Keeping your numbers in the healthy range is among the most significant factors in reducing stroke risk. If yours is elevated, be sure it’s treated and monitored regularly by a doctor.
  2. Be sure to include foods rich in potassium, like sweet potatoes, raisins and bananas. These types of foods may help reduce stroke risk by 20 percent according to reports. Try to follow a healthy diet overall, filled with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, one serving of fish a few times a week and whole grains. Try to reduce the salt in your diet to half a teaspoon or less per day too.
  3. Get more exercise. Whether it’s a jog around the block or a lap around the pool, staying active for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week is an important factor in lowering your risk. In fact, according to a study, simply walking a total of two hours a week showed a 30 percent reduction in stroke risk.
  4. Quit smoking. We know, easier said than done. Curbing this dangerous habit is difficult, but it reduces your risk for so many health issues, including a stroke. Seek support from family or your doctor to help put a plan in place. The road is long, but the results are well worth it. Make it happen!

Taking preventive measures and being pro-active about your health is one of the best ways for you to stay healthy and prevent stroke and other diseases.

To learn more, head over to the American Stroke Association for more information. Gaining knowledge is step one!