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Stroke Awareness Month

About 780,000 people in the U.S. will have a stroke in 2008.  Of these, 150,000 will die and 15%--30% of stroke survivors will be permanently disabled.  Stroke is the third leading cause of death, behind heart disease and cancer.  About 25% of strokes occur in people younger than 65 years of age.  The toll it takes on everyone is staggering.

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is cut off.  This can happen when a clot forms to block a blood vessel (ischemic stroke -- the most common type) or  when an artery in the brain bursts (hemorrhagic stroke).  Either way, the blood supply is disrupted and there is damage to the cells.  There is also something called a TIA (transient ischemic attack) which is a "mini-stroke".  It starts just like a stroke but symptoms clear up in 24 hours.  A mini-stroke is a warning that the person is at risk for a more serious stroke and medical attention should be sought immediately.

Everyone can take steps to lower risk factors for stroke, with the exception of modifying age or genetics.  Nevertheless, there is still much you can do.  You can (once again, no surprise here!):

  • Be physically active at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat a healthy diet -- more fruits and vegetables, less fat and salt.
  • Prevent and control high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
  • Do not smoke tobacco.
  • Prevent and control diabetes.
  • Treat atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat in which the heart's upper chambers quiver instead of beating which allows the blood to pool and perhaps clot.
  • Do not drink excessive amounts of alcohol.

If a stroke occurs, it is extremely important to act fast so that the risk of death or disability can be reduced.  Warning signs and symptoms to look for:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arms, or legs.  Can the person raise both arms?
  • Sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding others.  Is the person's speech slurred or face droopy, do the words make sense?
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.  Is vision clear or blurry, double vision, or only part of the visual field?
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination.  Does the person lean or slump to one side, drag a foot while walking?
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause.  Does the person normally have headaches?

Despite all the efforts to educate, research still shows that the general public continues to be unaware of stroke's warning signs and the need for immediate medical attention, even if the symptoms subside.  If you think someone might be having a stroke, call 911 immediately.

Visit the following websites for more detailed information about stroke:

http://www.cdc.gov/stroke          http://www.strokeassociation.org          http://www.stroke.org          http://www.ninds.nih.gov      

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