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Strokes Strike Fast. You Should, Too. What to Know for Stroke Awareness Month

Imagine you’re out at dinner with some friends or your extended family. Everyone is having a good time—telling stories, laughing, catching up. Then someone at the end of the table gets a curious look on her face. She’s a little quiet, and then she says something, but it sounds a little off. A little slurred, perhaps. And then you notice one side of her face seems to be sagging.

What’s going on? What should you do?

You likely recognize the key signs of a stroke in the above description—facial drooping, slurred speech—but what might surprise you is how fast a stroke comes on. Strokes are also known as brain attacks, and they occur when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off. Like heart attacks, onset can occur in the snap of a fingers. A person can be feeling fine one moment, and the next she is in a life-threatening situation.

“Strokes are scary,” said Charmaine Preiss, Executive Director of Brandermill Woods. “Even if you know the signs, and you know the FAST acronym, you still have to act quickly to get medical attention. We encourage everyone to take a few minutes during Stroke Awareness Month to learn the signs and symptoms, and to start taking healthy lifestyle steps to minimize risk.”

Act FAST: Signs of a Stroke

You’ve likely heard of the FAST acronym for recognizing a stroke in others:

  • Facial drooping – the appearance of a crooked smile)
  • Arm weakness – the inability to raise one’s arms
  • Speech difficulty – slurred or broken speech
  • Time – act quickly and dial 911

The last step—“act quickly and dial 911”—is particularly important. A recent scientific study examined hospital arrival time of stroke and heart attack victims and found that people surrounded by family and other close loved ones actually tend to arrive at hospitals later than people who have a stroke in a public place. The authors of the study concluded that close social networks tend to take a “watch-and-wait” approach when a loved one exhibits signs of a stroke, whereas strangers are likely to call 911 straight away.

Perhaps the thinking is you don’t want to be a bother. You don’t want to call 911 over nothing, and it might sound reasonable to wait a few minutes to make sure your loved one isn’t just suffering from some indigestion. But the absolute best thing you can do is to act quickly and get your loved one medical treatment. Every minute without blood flow to the brain creates more irreparable damage.

Stroke Risk Factors

Anyone, of any age, can have a stroke, and there is no sure-fired way to prevent a stroke. There is also nothing you can do about risk factors such as age (stroke risk doubles every decade older than 55), sex (men are statistically more likely than women to have a stroke), or family history (if your parents or grandparents had a stroke, you are more likely to be susceptible).

But many lifestyle factors also contribute to strokes and can be controlled. These include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Tobacco use
  • Alcohol use
  • Physical inactivity

The best prevention steps are the same healthy-lifestyle steps to prevent heart disease and other ailments. Eat a healthy diet rich with fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats, quit smoking, limit alcohol use, and exercise regularly. In addition to stroke awareness, this month is as great a time as any to modify your lifestyle. After all, it’s the only life you get.