Knowing how to identify a stroke is a key component of getting effective treatment
Facts at a glance:
- 800,000 people each year experience a stroke
- Strokes are caused by loss of blood flow to the brain
- Learn to assess symptoms with the FAST test
- Two-thirds of stroke victims will suffer permanent disability
A stroke can happen to anyone at any time. In fact, it’s the fifth leading cause of death in the United States according to the American Stroke Association. Since the effects of a stroke can range from minor medical occurrences to having fatal consequences, it’s imperative to recognize the signs and understand the urgency when experiencing symptoms.
According to statistics published by the National Stroke Association:
- A stroke occurs every 40 seconds
- Up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented
- Someone dies from a stroke every four minutes
- Strokes are the leading cause of disability in adults
- 800,000 people suffer from a new or recurrent stroke annually
Strokes are clearly a widespread and preventable health risk, and raising awareness and educating others could save lives.
How strokes happen
A stroke, also known as a cerebrovascular accident (CVA) or a “brain attack,” happens when blood flow is cut off from an area to a brain. As a result, the brain cells that are deprived of oxygen begin to die, and once they do, the abilities that area of the brain controls are lost.
The extent of the damage from a stroke is affected by where it occurs in the brain and how much of the brain is damaged, ranging from the temporary weakness of a limb to permanent partial paralysis or losing the ability to speak. Although some people make a full recovery after their stroke, approximately two-thirds will have a resulting disability.
There are two types of strokes:
- Ischemic. A blood clot blocks a blood vessel that carries blood to the brain.
- Hemorrhagic. A weakened blood vessel or brain aneurysm bursts – this is less common but more fatal.
Who is at risk?
800,000 people suffer from a new or recurrent stroke annually
Anyone can have a stroke, but some are more predisposed than others. The most common risk factors include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Increasing age
Drugs ruptured aneurysms, and genetic pre-dispositions to abnormal blood clotting are less common risk factors found primarily in younger individuals (under 50 years old).
How to recognize symptoms
Not only is it important to recognize the signs of a stroke, but it’s also important to have an idea of when symptoms began, as that may affect treatment options. Pay attention if you notice the following in yourself or a loved one:
- Vision trouble. Blurred, blackened, or double vision in one or both eyes.
- Trouble communicating. Confusion, slurred speech, or difficulty understanding speech.
- Sudden or severe headache, often accompanied by vomiting, dizziness or altered consciousness.
- Difficulty walking. Stumbling, losing balance or coordination, or experiencing sudden dizziness.
- Paralysis of the face, arm, or leg. Sudden numbness, weakness, or paralysis on one side of the face or body.
What can you do?
The National Stroke Association recommends what they call the FAST test to evaluate symptoms:
- Face. Ask them to smile. Is one side drooping?
- Arm. Ask them to raise both arms. Does one fall?
- Speech. Ask them to say something. Does it sound strange?
- Time. If you note any of the above, it’s time to call 911 immediately.
Every second count if you think you’re witnessing or experiencing a stroke. Note the time symptoms started since clot-busting medication can be administered within a certain window. If necessary, begin to perform CPR.
Strokes can approach swiftly and without warning. Although that’s a scary thought, the damage can be mitigated with proper recognition and treatment. Educate yourself and others about the risk factors, symptoms, and time-sensitive nature of treatment for strokes and keep yourself and your loved ones happy and healthy for longer.
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