Stroke Awareness Day (October 29) is a good time to remind ourselves how to help prevent and recognize strokes, the leading cause of long-term disability in the United States and the fifth-leading cause of death. Even more startling is that the stroke rate has gone up among young and middle-aged Americans over the last 30 years. Over 30% of strokes occur in people under the age of 65, and 10% affect those under 50 years old. Unfortunately, residents of our RCAHD communities experience higher rates of hospitalizations for asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke (according to 2020 Virginia hospital admissions data) compared to the rest of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
What is a stroke?
A stroke, or brain attack, happens when blood flow to your brain is blocked by a clot or a blood vessel bursts in your brain. The brain needs a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients. Without them, brain cells begin to die after just a few minutes. For this reason, it is an emergency if blood supply to the brain is stopped, even for a short time. Knowing the signs of a stroke and getting immediate medical attention immediately can save lives.
Anyone can have a stroke at any age. But your chance of having a stroke increases if you are older and have certain risk factors. Some risk factors for stroke can be changed or managed, while others, such as family history can’t. Like most health conditions, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the easiest way to reduce your risk of stroke:
- If you smoke, quit. Smoking doubles the risk of stroke. The great news is that the risk begins to decrease as soon as you quit and can fall to that of a non-smoker after two-to-five years. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for free support for yourself or a loved one.
- Know your numbers: blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. Do what you can to keep these levels within normal range.
- Stay active, eat healthy and stay at a healthy weight. Even light physical activities, such as gardening, housework, or slow-paced walking can contribute to stroke prevention. The key is to stay active and avoid prolonged periods of inactivity.
- If you have heart disease, get treatment.
While staying healthy can go a long way toward reducing risk, it’s also critical that everyone knows the signs and symptoms of a stroke. Patients who receive treatment within three hours of their first symptoms often have less disability after a stroke than those who received delayed care.
Internalize these warning signs of stroke, commonly abbreviated to the letters BE FAST:
- Balance — Has the person suddenly lost their balance?
- Eyes — Has the person’s vision suddenly changed in one or both eyes?
- Face — Does the person’s face look uneven? If you can’t tell, try having the person smile.
- Arms — Is one arm weak?
- Speech — Is the person having trouble speaking or using slurred speech? Do they seem confused?
- Time — Call 911 immediately.
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, seek help immediately. Mere minutes can make the difference between temporary paralysis, permanent damage, or death. If you experience any signs of stroke, like arm numbness or weakness and it doesn’t go away in a few minutes, don’t delay — call 911 and get checked out. It could make a meaningful, perhaps lifesaving, difference.
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