A stroke happens when a blood vessel in the brain becomes blocked or bursts, and it stems from a cardiovascular condition such as atherosclerosis, high blood pressure or atrial fibrillation.
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Time to medical treatment matters. A lot.
It can mean the difference between a person being able to walk and go home versus needing to move to a nursing home, says neurologist Shazam Hussain, MD, Director of the Cerebrovascular Center at Cleveland Clinic.
“Every minute in a situation of an acute stroke, you lose about two million brain cells and so it’s really a situation where every minute counts,” Dr. Hussain says.
The sooner you recognize the signs of a stroke and get someone to the hospital, the greater the chances of reducing the risk of disability and death.
Many of us wouldn’t recognize the signs of stroke. Fortunately, there’s a simple acronym to help:
BE FAST: Easy to remember, too important to forget
Look for these signs and act:
Balance — Loss of balance
Eyes — Changes in vision
Face Drooping – Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile.
Arm Weakness – Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
Speech Difficulty – Is the person’s speech slurred? Is he or she unable to speak or difficult to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence such as, “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?
Time to call 911 – If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 911 and get him or her to the hospital immediately.
Awareness can make the difference
Increasing awareness about the warning signs of stroke and critical response steps could lead to happier endings for more stroke victims.
“There is much that can be done in the first hours after identifying a stroke to help improve blood flow to the brain and impact recovery,” Dr. Hussain says.
Risk factors for stroke
Strokes and cardiovascular disease share many risk factors:
- Excess weight — Obesity can lead to heart disease and high cholesterol, which can lead to a stroke.
- Heart problems — Strokes are six times more likely to occur in people with cardiovascular disease. Atrial fibrillation, one of the most common heart rhythm problems, increases your risk of stroke by about 5 times.
- High blood pressure — Strokes are four to six times more likely in people with hypertension.
- High cholesterol — People with high cholesterol are at double the risk of having a stroke.
- Heavy drinking — This increases the risk for stroke and cardiovascular disease.
- Smoking — If you smoke, you double your risk for stroke compared to nonsmokers.
Some people will actually experience warning signs before a stroke occurs, which is called an ischemic attack, or a mini stroke.
It’s important to get regular checkups and report any symptoms or risk factors to your doctor. A doctor can help evaluate your risk for developing stroke and help you get any risk factors under control.