For celebrities and the rest of us: Recognizing stroke can save a life

When a celebrity has a stroke, it makes headlines. Chances are, you’ve read how Kirk Douglas and Dick Clark publicly battled the effects of stroke. Hall of Fame outfielder Kirby Puckett died of a stroke tragically at the age of 45. But stroke doesn’t discriminate between the famous and the rest of us. Stroke occurs in all age groups, in both sexes and in all races in every country in the world.

Stroke kills almost 130,000 Americans a year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and is the leading cause of disability in adults. In the U.S., stroke strikes a person every 40 seconds, killing one every 4 minutes.* Many people are aware of the dangers of high blood pressure, or may be able to recognize the signs of a heart attack. But most think a stroke can’t happen to them. In recognition of Stroke Awareness Month this May, learn the causes and symptoms so you can reduce your risk and take quick action in the event of a stroke.

Know the signs

Recognizing the signs of stroke can help someone suffering one seek immediate treatment. A stroke occurs when blood circulation to the brain fails, caused by either blockage of a blood vessel or by bleeding into the brain. Blockage of a blood vessel in the brain or neck, called an ischemic stroke, is the most common type of stroke. Bleeding into the brain or the spaces around the brain causes the second kind of stroke, known as hemorrhagic stroke.

“Hundreds of people are hospitalized each year at HCMC because of a stroke, and fewer than half arrive to the hospital in time to receive treatment, which is only effective for a short time after symptoms begin,” says the Hennepin Stroke Centers coordinator, Donna Lindsay, RN. “The time it takes for people to recognize what is happening is so important, because every minute a stroke goes untreated means more of the brain may be damaged. Recognizing stroke symptoms and calling 911 quickly can reduce or prevent long term disability and may even save a life.

“To make it easier to recall the most common signs of stroke, remember F.A.S.T.

Face drooping – Does one side of the face droop? Is the person’s smile uneven? Arm weakness – Is one arm weak? Can the person raise both arms? Speech difficulty – Is speech slurred? Does the person have trouble speaking? Time to call 911 – Even if the symptoms go away, call 911

“One or more of the F.A.S.T. symptoms are present in 80 percent of strokes,” says Lindsay. Some other stroke signs include a sudden onset of:

  • Numbness or weakness, especially on one side of the body
  • Confusion or trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Difficulty walking, dizziness or loss of balance or coordination
  • Severe headache with no known cause

Preventing Stroke

Many risk factors for stroke can be controlled. Some common treatable risk factors include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol (especially “bad” LDL cholesterol)
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Physical inactivity
  • Sleep apnea
  • Obesity (Overweight)

Medication may be needed to fully control stroke risk factors but living a healthy lifestyle may reduce or prevent the need for medication. Healthy lifestyle tips include:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Getting regular physical activity (30 minutes most days)
  • Eating a healthy, low-sodium, reduced fat and reduced cholesterol diet
  • Limiting alcohol consumption to no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men
  • No smoking and limited exposure to secondhand smoke

No one is immune to stroke. Be sure to know the warning signs and call 911 if you notice them in yourself or someone you are with. Talk to your health care provider about reducing your risk.

* Source: American Stroke Association,

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