As we wrap up American Heart Month, let’s focus on an important subject that doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it should: stroke. If you’re a regular reader, you probably know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for Americans. But closely related to heart disease is stroke, the fourth leading cause of death. While the warning signs for a heart attack might be obvious—chest pain, discomfort in the jaw, neck, arms, back or stomach, shortness of breath, nausea—you may not recognize when someone’s having a stroke. Here’s what you need to know about the warning signs of a stroke.
A stroke occurs when an artery to the brain is blocked or bursts, cutting off oxygen and nutrients necessary to brain function. As a result, part of the brain dies, and functions such as walking, speaking, seeing and feeling can be impaired. Some of the risk factors for stroke include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, circulation problems, and atherosclerosis, or the narrowing of the arteries, obesity, physical inactivity, and excessive drinking or smoking. These can all be controlled or improved with diet, exercise, lifestyle changes, and medication.
Strokes tend to come on suddenly. A sudden numbness in the face, arm or leg, especially when isolated to one side of the body, is a classic sign. If a person is suddenly confused, or has trouble walking, speaking, understanding, or seeing in one or both eyes, that’s another warning sign. Sudden dizziness, severe headache with no known cause or loss of coordination or balance can also signal a stroke.
If a person experiences any of these symptoms, you need to act fast. Dial 911 and note the time the first symptom occurred. This is critical because it will impact treatment options. Certain treatments, when given within the first three hours, may reduce the effects of a stroke. So don’t wait.
If you suspect someone has had a stroke, use the FAST method to get more information. FAST is acronym that stands for Face, Arms, Speech and Time. By checking these areas, you’ll have a better understanding of the person’s condition.
F = Face Ask the person to smile. If they’ve had a stroke, one side of their face may droop.
A = Arms Ask the person to raise both arms. If they’ve had a stroke, one arm may drift downward.
S = Speech Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. If they’ve had a stroke, their speech may be slurred or sound odd.
T = Time If the person shows any of these symptoms after the FAST test, call 911 and seek help right away.
Talk it up:
Are you concerned about your risk for stroke?
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