Talking about strokes is daunting. The disease kills 130,000 Americans each year, and can come on quickly and without prior warning. Who wants to discuss something so unpredictable and harmful? We do. May is American Stroke Month, the perfect time to become “stroke smart.” Learn the warning signs, understand how to respond if someone exhibits stroke symptoms, and help protect yourself and your family.
Who’s At Risk?
In the United States, stroke is a top cause of death and a leading cause of disability, affecting 795,000 men and women each year. GoRedForWomen.org reports that one out of six people will suffer a stroke in his or her lifetime, and while the majority are over the age of 65, younger people are also at risk. These stories from survivors include the personal account of a healthy and active 24 year old women, Bri Winkler, who experienced a stroke as she was getting ready to go to the gym. Here are ICS, we have both staff and members who are stroke survivors. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking are all risk factors for stroke, but strokes don’t discriminate.
Recognize the Symptoms
Google currently finds over 80 million web pages with stroke-related information, including 130,000 news articles about the disease from the last month alone! While this means there’s no shortage of information out there, it also means that researching strokes can be overwhelming. So let’s get back to the basics.
There are two types of strokes:
- An ischemic stroke, which occurs when a clot blocks a blood vessel, preventing blood from reaching the brain, and
- A hemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when a blood vessel bursts, damaging parts of the brain
Regardless of the type of stroke that a person experiences, the symptoms are the same:
- a drooping face
- weakness or numbness in the face (or arm or leg)
- difficulty speaking
- confusion or trouble understanding
- sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- sudden severe headache with no known cause
The National Stroke Association recommends using the F.A.S.T. system to remember the most common of these stroke symptoms:
F (Face): Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s face uneven?
A (Arm): Ask the person to raise both arms. Is one arm weak or numb? Does one arm drift downward?
S (Speech): Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Is their speech slurred? Is the sentence repeated correct?
T (Time): If someone shows any of these symptoms, call 911 and get the person to the hospital immediately.
Stroke Treatment and Recovery
With quick action, treatment for ischemic strokes—the most common stroke—is available in the form of FDA-approved drug, tissue Plasminogen Activator (tPA). Research shows that tPA, a strong “clot dissolving” medicine, can increase the chances of recovery if administered within three hours of the onset of stroke symptoms, although there are risks associated with the treatment. Specific information about tPA is available on this fact sheet. Other emergency procedures are also available in some cases.
The outcomes of a stroke vary significantly. Some survivors will make a full-recovery, while others will experience paralysis, vision problems, loss of speech, memory loss, or even death. Most stroke survivors face challenges managing the emotional and physical effects, however resources are available to help survivors cope in the wake of a stroke, including online advice, national support groups, and online communities for both stroke survivors and family caregivers. The National Stroke Association also publishes the quarterly Stroke Connection magazine, which aims to offer a “voice of support, information and inspiration for a vast community of stroke survivors and their families.”
The Importance of Being Stroke Smart—Spread the Word!
Some stroke risk factors—such as age, race, and family history—are unchangeable, but others can be controlled. Managing your blood pressure, quitting smoking, exercising frequently, and other efforts can all lower your stroke risk and improve your overall health. Power to End Stroke offers great tips on their fun, easy-to-use, and interactive website. You can complete a personal risk assessment, get healthy recipes, and find tools to create your own health history family tree. And of course, if you believe you may be at risk of experiencing a stroke, speak to your doctor to learn how you can improve your health.
This May, American Stroke Month, be sure that you, your family and your friends are stroke-smart: know the risks, recognize the symptoms, and understand how you can stay healthy and well. Being aware of the risks and symptoms is half of the battle—spread the word!