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National Stroke Awareness Month

Each year in the United States, about 700,000 new strokes are reported, costing an estimated $43 billion. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the country and causes more serious long-term disabilities than any other disease. Nearly three-quarters of all strokes occur in people over the age of 65 and the risk of having a stroke more than doubles each decade after the age of 55. In May alone, some 65,000 Americans will experience a stroke with many unaware that they were even at risk. Less than a third will arrive in the emergency room within three hours, the optimal time period for better outcomes.


May marks National Stroke Awareness Month. A stroke, sometimes called a “brain attack,” occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted. When this happens, brain cells in the immediate area begin to die because they stop getting the oxygen and nutrients they need. There are two types of stroke. The first, called an ischemic stroke, is caused by a blood clot that blocks or plugs a blood vessel or artery leading to or in the brain. About 80% of strokes are ischemic. The second type, known as a hemorrhagic stroke, occurs when a blood vessel breaks and bleeds into the brain. About 20% of strokes are hemorrhagic. Although stroke is an injury to the brain, it can affect the entire body. The effects of a stroke range from mild to severe and can include paralysis, problems with thinking, and problems with speaking. 50 to 70% of stroke survivors regain some functional independence, but 15 to 30% are seriously disabled.


During National Stroke Awareness Month, the National Stroke Association is urging the public to look at their stroke risk factors, and pledge to make at least one change to reduce their stroke risk. People can do much to reduce their risk of stroke, even though some risk factors — race, gender, and age — are obviously not controllable. Everyone should monitor blood pressure and cholesterol levels and treat these conditions as recommended by a doctor. Here’s how much stroke would be reduced if each were eliminated:

– Hypertension 47.9%

– Physical inactivity 35.8%

– Lipids (blood fats) 26.8%

– Poor diet 23.2%

– Obesity 18.6%

– Smoking 12.4%

– Heart causes 9.1%

– Alcohol intake 5.8%

– Stress 5.8%

– Diabetes 3.9%


F.A.S.T.

Beyond reducing your risk for stroke, knowing the signs and symptoms of a stroke are equally important. Sadly, however, fewer than half of 9-1-1 calls for stroke are made within one hour of symptom onset and fewer than half of callers correctly identify stroke as the reason for their call. The acronym FAST is an easy way to identify the most common symptoms of a stroke:


Know Stroke. Know the Signs. Act in Time.

The National Institutes of Health through the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) developed the Know Stroke campaign to help educate the public about the symptoms of stroke and the importance of getting to the hospital quickly.

One of the key messages of the campaign is knowing the symptoms of stroke:

  • Sudden NUMBNESS or weakness of face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body

  • Sudden CONFUSION, trouble speaking or understanding speech

  • Sudden TROUBLE SEEING in one or both eyes

  • Sudden TROUBLE WALKING, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination

  • Sudden SEVERE HEADACHE with no known cause

A common misconception is that strokes occur only in older adults. Although, your stroke risk increases with age, a stroke can happen to anyone at any time. About 15% of ischemic strokes occur in young adults and adolescents.


The need for public awareness surrounding stroke prevention and awareness has never been greater.  Despite being a leading cause of adult long-term disability, and the fifth leading cause of death, less than one in five Americans can correctly classify all five stroke symptoms. The time to take action is now. This May, during National Stroke Awareness month, get to know your stroke risk factors and learn to better identify the signs and symptoms of stroke. The life you save just might be your own.


Sources: National Stroke Association, National Institutes of Health,

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, &

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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