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May is National Stroke Awareness Month, Do You Know Your Risk Factors?

By Dr. Evan Houck
Medical Director- Emergency Department, RCH
05/24/2023 at 04:31 PM

What’s a Stroke? 

May is National Stroke Awareness Month, which provides an important opportunity to discuss what the public needs to know about their risks and the importance of immediate treatment to prevent death or long-term disability.  

Each year, more than 785,000 people experience a stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A stroke happens when blood flow to the brain is blocked. This lack of blood flow stops the brain from getting oxygen and nutrients and brain cells begin to die within minutes. This is a medical emergency that can cause death, brain damage, or a long-term disability. Taking immediate action to get medical attention can reduce brain damage and other complications. Today’s advanced treatments have resulted in fewer Americans dying or experiencing disability from a stroke than in the past. 

Who is at Risk? 

There are many factors that can increase the risk of a stroke, such as family history, chronic health conditions, and lifestyle choices. Chronic health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or sleep apnea can increase risk factors. Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle increase risk factors, as well as smoking tobacco, consuming alcohol, and the use of illicit drugs. Individuals aged 55, men, and are of African American or Hispanic descent have a higher risk than others, and hormonal birth control pills that increase estrogen are associated with an increased risk for a stroke. 

How Can a Stroke Be Prevented? 

The best steps you can take to prevent a stroke are to know your risk factors and lead a healthy lifestyle. Controlling your blood pressure and your cholesterol levels, regular exercise, and a lifestyle free of tobacco and alcohol are key to reducing risks for stroke. 

Maintaining a healthy weight through a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, and nuts and regular exercise, and good sleep can help guard against stroke.  

What are the Symptoms of a Stroke – BE FAST 

The American Stroke Association developed the acronym BE FAST to identify the potential signs of a stroke.  

B- Balance. Is the person experiencing a loss of balance, dizziness or a headache? 

E- Eyes. Is the person experiencing blurred vision? 

F – Face drooping. Is one side of the person’s face drooping or numb? When he or she smiles, is the smile uneven?
A–Arm weakness. Is the person experiencing weakness or numbness in one arm? Have the person raise both arms. Does one of the arms drift downward?
S – Speech difficulty. Is the person’s speech suddenly slurred or hard to understand? Is he or she unable to speak? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Can he or she repeat it back?
T – Time to call 9-1-1. If any of these symptoms are present, dial 9-1-1 immediately. Check the time so you can report when the symptoms began. 

How is a Stroke Treated? 

Redlands Community Hospital Stroke Program has met rigorous standards for advanced mechanical endovascular thrombectomy (EVT). This specialized surgical procedure removes blood clots from the brain during an ischemic (restricted blood flow to the brain) stroke. Once the clot is removed, the patient’s blood will flow normally again. Blood thinning medications are also used to dissolve a blockage. There are multiple safe treatments used by today’s health professionals to help those experiencing a stroke. 

The important takeaway is that strokes can be prevented, even if family history puts you at risk. By paying attention to your health, many stroke risk factors can be reduced. Today’s public health education campaigns and advanced treatments are saving more lives than ever from death or disability.  

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