Community Health Watch: Stroke Awareness

May is Stroke Awareness Month—learn to recognize and prevent stroke early

EMSWorld now offers Community Health Watch articles for use by your EMS agency. These short, pre-written, easy to use articles are intended to be educational for your local community members on a wide range of public safety and health issues, and may be branded for your use. Your organization is free to use this as a community column in your local newspaper, a letter to the editor, a press release or in any other way you see fit. Either copy the text below or download the attached Word document.

When we think of deadly diseases, cancer and heart disease rightly come to mind first. But the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S.—and the No. 1 cause of disability—may surprise you. Its stroke and it kills close to 130,000 Americans each year.

Stroke is a nasty disease, because even if you survive it you’re likely faced with a debilitating, long-term recovery process. But there are steps you can take which can prevent a stroke from occurring, or enable you to recognize one early and get lifesaving help for a loved one.

Some risk factors for stroke are beyond your control, including being over age 55, being African-American, having diabetes and having a family history of stroke. However, the steps you can take to limit the risk factors are fairly simple and should already be a part of your healthy lifestyle choices:

  • Check your blood pressure annually and takes steps to reduce high blood pressure.
  • Visit your doctor, who can identify an abnormal heartbeat, which can increase stroke risk by 500%.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking doubles the risk of stroke.
  • Control alcohol use. If you’re going to drink, do so only in moderation—no more than two drinks each day.
  • Know your cholesterol levels and see a doctor if your total cholesterol level is more than 200.
  • Control diabetes. Your doctor can prescribe a nutrition program, lifestyle changes and medicine to help control your diabetes.
  • Manage exercise and diet. Exercise several times a week. Maintain a balanced diet low in calories, salt, saturated and trans fats and cholesterol.
  • Treat circulation problems, as well as sickle cell disease or severe anemia.

Even if you take all steps to reduce your risk, you or a loved one may still suffer a stroke. Approximately 795,000 strokes will occur this year—one every 40 seconds. Stroke can happen to anyone at any time, regardless of race, sex or age.

Because two million brain cells die every minute during stroke, recognizing symptoms and acting fast to get medical attention can save a life and limit disabilities. Use the FAST test to remember the warning signs of stroke:

F = FACE Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop? 

A = ARMS Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S = SPEECH Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Does the speech sound slurred or strange?

T = TIME If you observe any of these signs (independently or together), call 9-1-1 immediately.

Tips and statistics courtesy of the National Stroke Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.