Learn the facts about stroke: Why you should act FAST

Learn the facts about stroke: Why you should act FAST

By Alexandra Ristow, MD

May is more than just a time to enjoy the blooming flowers and warmer weather. It’s a month packed with appreciations and observances to raise awareness about a number of health conditions, including stroke – the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. 

Most commonly, a stroke happens when blood flow to a part of the brain is interrupted or reduced. When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood and oxygen it needs, causing brain cells to die. 

As we observe National Stroke Awareness Month, read about the five key facts to understanding strokes and learn how you can be an advocate for yourself and others. 

Fact #1:  Different types of strokes

There are two main types of strokes. An ischemic stroke is the most common, which is caused by a clot that obstructs the flow of blood to the brain. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel ruptures and the brain is damaged by the bleeding that results. A third type of stroke you may have heard of is a TIA (transient ischemic attack), or "mini stroke," which is caused by a temporary blood clot that resolves on its own. 

Fact #2: Age is a risk factor

While strokes can occur at any age, the risk doubles every decade after age 55. Approximately 75 percent of strokes occur in people 65 or older. Older adults should be particularly vigilant about controlling risk factors that may affect them as they age, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.  

Fact #3: Strokes are a leading cause of disability 

Strokes can be fatal, but most often are not. Because so many people survive, strokes are a major cause of serious, long-term disability in adults. When blood flow can't reach the region that controls a particular body function, that part of the body won't work as it should. The effects can vary widely, from mild weakness in an arm or leg to minor physical limitations to significant impairments in mobility, speech, and cognitive functions.

Fact #4: Time is critical

Every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. has a stroke. The faster a stroke is recognized and treated, the better the chances of recovery. Immediate medical attention can dramatically reduce the damage caused by a stroke, and can make the difference between a full recovery and long-term disability. The BE FAST acronym (Balance, Eyes, Face, Arms, Speech, Time) is essential for quick recognition and response.

Recognize the BE FAST warning signs:

  • Balance: Sudden loss of balance or coordination.
  • Eyes: Sudden vision changes in one or both eyes.
  • Face: Facial drooping on one side.
  • Arms: Sudden weakness or numbness in one arm.
  • Speech: Slurred speech or difficulty speaking.
  • Time: Time to call 911 immediately if any of these symptoms are present.

Fact #5: Prevention is possible

Approximately one in four stroke survivors is at risk for another stroke. Fortunately, up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented through lifestyle changes and medical interventions. This includes maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and managing conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity. Smoking, which damages blood vessels and doubles the risk of stroke, should always be avoided. 

Raising awareness during stroke awareness month

National Stroke Awareness Month serves as a reminder for older adults to prioritize their health and take proactive steps to prevent stroke. By staying informed, managing risk factors, and seeking prompt medical care when necessary, older adults can safeguard themselves against the potentially devastating effects of stroke.

Remember, your health is your most valuable asset. By taking small steps to prevent stroke, you can continue to lead a fulfilling and active life as you age.

We're on a mission to improve the healthcare and aging experience for older adults.  See what our patients have to say about care with Patina in this short video