18991663_sPeople don’t think about strokes, they just happen. Nearly half a million Americans have a stroke every year, with about 150,000 deaths associated with strokes. It is also the number one cause of disability in the U.S. and third leading cause of death. Over three million stroke victims are still alive, but out of those still living, at least a third will live with permanent disabilities that are directly linked to the stroke. Only twenty percent receive therapy or rehabilitation after having a stroke. Sounds scary, right? 

May of 2015 is “Stroke Awareness Month” and it is a time for physicians across the country to spread the word about this sometimes fatal occurrence. Although some specialists can help patients return to fully functioning citizens or assisted living, the emotional or physical effects can greatly impact their quality of living.

How is a stroke diagnosed, and what are some warning signs people should look for? How can people reduce the risk of having a stroke in the first place, when little is known about the causes? These are things to address during National Stroke Awareness Month.

Acting FAST Can Save Lives and Prevent Strokes

The acronym FAST is important because it is a great way to remember the things to look for on a person who might be just about to have a stroke. When Acting FAST is applied, nearly 80% of all strokes can be prevented.

The National Stroke Association lists the acronym as follows:

  • F = FACE: Look for drooping or leaning on one side when the person smiles or frowns
  • A = ARM: When the person raises their arms, does the left or right arm drift down?
  • S = SPEECH: Ask the person to repeat a sentence or phrase. If the speech sounds weird or slurred, this is a warning sign.
  • T = TIME: Acting quickly if the above signals are prevalent can help to save the person before the stroke happens. Call 911 right away or get to a hospital.


Who is Most at Risk of Having a Stroke?

Some people are at higher risk of having a stroke, especially those with a family history. If your father, mother or grandparent has ever had a stroke, you should be especially diligent in stroke prevention. You should also consider changing your diet and lifestyle habits.

These risk factors may or may not mean that a person is more likely to have a stroke:

  • Tobacco/Cigarette Smoking – Studies have revealed that cigarette smoking is a known risk factor of strokes because the combination of carbon monoxide and nicotine, combined with cardiovascular damage, prevents the oxygen from flowing through the bloodstream. Certain oral contraceptives also pose a higher risk.
  • High Blood Pressure – Still one of the leading causes of stroke, having high blood pressure is a controllable element that can lead to a decline in health and higher risk of strokes.
  • Diabetics – People with diabetes are especially vulnerable to strokes, which increase in diabetics who are also overweight. The double strain puts too much pressure on a person’s heart.
  • Heart Disease – There are several types of heart disease, such as congenital heart defects, dilated cardiomyopathy or coronary heart disease, which is the most common. Having heart problems automatically puts you at a greater risk of strokes.
  • Bad Diet – A lot of people eat foods high in saturated fat, sodium or that are high in cholesterol. This can raise blood pressure and contribute to obesity, which puts overeaters at a bigger risk of strokes.
  • Physically Inactive – Not exercising enough is also a problem, since it can lead to some of the above risk factors, such as high blood pressure, weight gain, diabetes and heart disease.
  • Sickle Cell Anemia – This is also called “sickle cell disease” and is a genetic disorder affecting many Hispanic or African American children. It means that the person’s red blood cells are less apt to move oxygen through the system, which can subsequently block arteries and oxygen to the brain.
  • Heart Rhythm Disorders – When the heart’s upper chamber skips or quivers, it can lead to blood clots. Sometimes the clot can break and enter the bloodstream or get lodged in one of the main arteries that flow to the brain, subsequently causing a stroke.
  • Carotid Artery Stenosis – Also called artery disease, this is when the arteries in a person’s neck become narrowed by fat deposits, thereby blocking the blood supply to your brain. If a blood clot occurs, this can make you more at risk of a stroke.
  • Peripheral Artery Disease – A similar problem is when the blood vessels to the arms and legs become narrow due to fatty plaque buildup.

So, what are some things people can do to avoid having a stroke? The most essential things are eating clean, exercising and being diligent about prevention. Always get a checkup at the doctor, especially vital statistics such as blood pressure or cholesterol readings, and heart checkups, etc.

Remember, if you see someone displaying any of the FAST symptoms, it is a cue to act fast. It just might be the difference between life or death, or having a stroke or not. Many strokes can be prevented; so long as you get there in the nick of time!