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May is American Stroke Month. Learn F.A.S.T. Stroke Signs to Save Lives

By American Heart Association / American Stroke Association (AHA/ASA)

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Paralysis. Speech loss. Loss of independence. Dementia. Death. This is what stroke does to our loved ones. Knowing the risks and symptoms of stroke, and what to do in a stroke emergency, can help save lives.

Stroke—the #5 killer-- is deadly and a leading cause of serious long-term disability. Each year, about 795,000 people suffer a stroke. Approximately 610,000 of these individuals have never experienced a stroke before. On average, someone in the U.S. has a stroke every 40 seconds, and every 4 minutes someone dies from one. There are currently 6.6 million American adults living with stroke.

The good news is that nearly 80% of strokes can be prevented, and timely access to the latest medical therapies can greatly reduce disability from stroke. It is preventable, beatable and treatable, according to the American Heart Association / American Stroke Association (AHA/ASA).

The costs of treating stroke in the U.S. for 2012 were $71.6 billion and are expected to triple to $184 billion by 2030. Much can be done to improve survivability and reduce disability from stroke.

Know your risk

Certain segments of the population have a disproportionately high risk of stroke. African Americans have almost twice the risk of a first-ever stroke as whites, and African-Americans and Hispanics are more likely to die after a stroke, compared to whites.

Gender is also a factor. Stroke claims more women’s lives than men--stroke remains the No. 4 killer of women. And although stroke is often thought of as a disease of adulthood, it is among the top 10 causes of death in children and young adults between the ages of 5 and 19.

Known, changeable risk factors, such as smoking, high blood pressure, lack of physical activity, diabetes, nutrition and atrial fibrillation (irregular heart contractions which may cause blood clots) are linked to an increased incidence of stroke. Reducing or eliminating these risk factors decrease the risk of stroke.

Lifestyle choices affect stroke incidence. Current smokers have a 2 to 4 times increased risk of stroke compared with nonsmokers or those who have quit for more than 10 years. Diabetics with blood pressure of less than 120/80 mm Hg have approximately half the lifetime risk of stroke compared to diabetics with hypertension.

Physical inactivity is associated with an overall 20% increase in stroke risk. A one-serving increase of sugar-sweetened beverage consumption is associated with a 13% increase in the likelihood of ischemic stroke, according to the AHA/ASA.

Get help F.A.S.T.

A clot dissolving drug called tPA can save lives and significantly reduce disability from stroke if administered as soon as possible within 4.5 hours of symptom onset—ideally within 90 minutes. A major barrier is that patients often do not recognize the symptoms of stroke and do not arrive at the hospital in a timely manner.

Only 51% of those surveyed in 2009 said they would first call 9-1-1 if they thought someone was having a stroke. Only about 20% of women are able to identify warning signs for stroke. African Americans are nearly twice as likely as whites to have a first stroke, but fewer than half (47%) know at least five stroke warning signs. Only 27% of stroke patients arrive at the hospital within 3.5 hours of symptom onset.

To help save lives from stroke, the American Stroke Association encourages everyone to learn the acronym F.A.S.T. to remember stroke symptoms. F.A.S.T. stands for:

F - Face Drooping Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the mouth lopsided or uneven?
A - Arm Weakness Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S - Speech Difficulty Is speech slurred, are they unable to speak, or are they hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like "the sky is blue." Is the sentence repeated correctly?
T - Time to call 911 If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get them to the hospital immediately.

To learn more about stroke, visit www.strokeassociation.org/strokemonth.

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