May is Stroke Awareness Month, the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association's annual campaign to increase awareness that a stroke is something largely preventable if you know and act upon the risks and warning signs. Stroke is the number four cause of death and leading cause of disability in the U.S. Many Americans don't think of stroke as a major health concern, even though every forty seconds someone in America has a stroke.
Thinking F.A.S.T. can mean the difference between recovery and disability, or even death. A stroke happens when a blood vessel is blocked or bursts and blood flow to the brain is stopped. Within just a few minutes of a stroke, brain cells begin to die. F.A.S.T. is an acronym used to help people remember and recognize the signs of a stroke.
F - Face drooping: The face seems uneven and the person has a hard time smiling.
A - Arm weakness: One arm drifts down or they have difficulty raising both arms.
S - Speech difficulty: The person's speech sounds strange or they have difficult repeating a simple phrase like "the sky is blue."
T - Time: If you notice any of these signs, call 911 immediately.
Additional signs of a stroke include sudden severe headache with no known cause; sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; or sudden confusion or trouble understanding.
"Knowing if you are at risk for stroke is highly important, because many risk factors can be modified and controlled," Jeffrey L. Saver M.D., professor of Neurology and director of the Comprehensive Stroke Center at the University of California Los Angeles, said. Dr. Saver reports that the number one stroke risk factor is high blood pressure. Make sure you know your numbers, check your blood pressure regularly, and talk to your doctor about your progress.
According to the Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention and Control Program, there are several other risk factors for stroke including obesity, even being 20 pounds overweight can increase your risk of stroke significantly; diabetes that is not controlled with medication or a proper diet; and smoking, which increases your risk of having a stroke two to three times greater than a non-smoker.
There are other things that you can do to help prevent a stroke. Check your cholesterol. If your total cholesterol is over 200, this puts you at risk for a stroke. Talk to your doctor about diet and exercise changes you can make to lower your cholesterol. Limit alcohol to small amounts, exercise every day for 30 to 60 minutes, and eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains while limiting salt and foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol.
Remember that a stroke is preventable. Knowing if you are at risk and taking the proper steps to avoid having a stroke is important. To learn more about stroke prevention - including diet, the stroke risk factor quiz, or to download the F.A.S.T. mobile app - visit the American Stroke Association website at www.strokeassociation.org or call 1-888-478-7653.
For more information, call HealthLink Littauer at 736-1120. People can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, visit its website at nlh.org, or visit its wellness center at 213 Harrison St. Ext. in Johnstown, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.