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Stroke Awareness Month: Learn About Stroke Symptoms and Risk Factors

Stroke Awareness Month: Learn About Stroke Symptoms and Risk Factors

Stroke Awareness Month: Learn About Stroke Symptoms and Risk Factors

May is Stroke Awareness Month, making it a great time to not only wear a red ribbon, but to also learn all you can about the disease, how to lower your risk of having a stroke, and what to do if one occurs.

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death, affecting more than 795,000 Americans every year. Even stroke survivors will experience some level of disability, which often requires rehabilitation.

Stroke is a common condition that’s preventable in most cases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 80% of strokes could be avoided.

Now is the time to educate yourself about symptoms and causes, and how to lower your risk of having one.

What Happens During a Stroke

When the body is functioning normally, blood flows to and from the brain, providing it with essential nutrients and oxygen. During a stroke, that vital blood flow is disrupted.

There are two types of stroke — ischemic stroke, which is the most common type of stroke, and hemorrhagic stroke. Both types disrupt normal blood flow and brain cells die, but each one occurs differently.

  • During an ischemic stroke, a blood clot or plaque buildup blocks the blood vessels to the brain.
  • During a hemorrhagic stroke, a blood vessel leaks or ruptures entirely, flooding the brain with blood. The excess blood puts pressure on brain cells, damaging them.

You may have also heard of something called a “mini-stroke.” Formally called a transient ischemic attack, this health condition works similarly to an ischemic stroke, but lasts for only minutes. These attacks are often considered a red flag for future strokes.

Stroke Symptoms

Someone who is experiencing a stroke may experience a number of symptoms, often limited to one side of the body. Stroke symptoms can include:

  • Sudden confusion, difficulty speaking or difficulty understanding speech
  • Sudden issues with walking or a loss of balance and coordination
  • Sudden severe headache
  • Sudden vision problems
  • Sudden weakness or numbness

Notice that each of those symptoms includes the word sudden. In nearly all cases, the onset of symptoms will occur quickly, and it’s important to seek emergency medical attention immediately.

The acronym F.A.S.T. may help you remember when to seek help.

  • (F) Face drooping
  • (A) Arm weakness
  • (S) Speech problems
  • (T) Time to call 911

Know Your Risk Factors for Stroke

One of the most important things you can do during Stroke Awareness Month is to take a close look at your risk factors. Knowing your risk for stroke can help you take steps to lower your chance of having one.

Risk factors include:

  • A family medical history of stroke
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Diabetes
  • Having experienced a mini-stroke or stroke previously
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Sickle cell disease

Anyone of any age and ethnicity can have a stroke. However, the older you are, the greater your risk of stroke. People of certain races and ethnicities, including those who are Black, Hispanic, American Indian, or Native Alaskan, are also at increased risk.

5 Steps to Lower Your Risk

Living a healthy lifestyle can help you minimize your risk factors and prevent a stroke.

Don’t smoke. Smoking damages blood vessels and the brain. Studies show every five cigarettes a person smokes per day increases risk stroke 12%. Lower your risk by not smoking, or quitting if you do.

Fuel up with healthy foods. Fill your plate with plenty of antioxidant-enriched fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, like chicken, fish, or tofu. Supplement those foods with a small amount of healthy fat, including fatty fish, avocadoes, and olive oil. Limit your intake of saturated fats and trans fat, excess sodium, and added sugar.

Have regular checkups. Stroke symptoms can sneak up on you, but the risk factors usually don’t. Visit with a medical provider regularly to know your risk factors and how to lower them. Checkups can help you monitor your blood pressure level, cholesterol, and blood sugar.

Manage any chronic conditions you have. If you’re diagnosed with a condition such as high blood pressure or diabetes, work with your medical provider to manage the condition effectively. Lifestyle habits and medications, if needed, can help you keep your levels in a healthy range, lowering your stroke risk.

Move your body often. An inactive lifestyle can increase your risk of stroke and other serious health conditions. Aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week, which is just over 20 minutes per day of an activity like briskly walking or swimming.

Want to learn more about your risk factors for stroke? In honor of Stroke Awareness Month, schedule an appointment for a checkup! Need a medical provider? Find one here.