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Start the Rest of Your Life on World Stroke Day

Stroke is a leading cause of serious long-term disability, and more than 795,000 Americans have a stroke each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Chances of survival are greater when treatment begins quickly, and patients have less disability than those who received delayed care. Through better public awareness of the signs and risk factors, we can help to reduce the global burden of stroke.

Every October 29, World Stroke Day focuses on raising awareness of the signs of stroke and the need for timely access to quality stroke treatment.

Early Signs and Symptoms of Stroke

Julie Chin, an Oklahoma news anchor, is thankful that her colleagues recognized the stroke signs she exhibited while on the air in September. When Chin had sudden partial vision loss, numbness in her arm and hand, and difficulty speaking and reading the teleprompter, a co-worker called 911. Chin was rushed to a nearby hospital where she underwent a series of tests that revealed she suffered the "beginning of a stroke." Chin has since recovered and wants everyone to be aware of the BE FAST acronym used by medical professionals to recognize the following early signs and symptoms of a stroke.

  • Balance: Is the person having a hard time staying balanced or coordinated?
  • Eyes: Is the person experiencing blurry vision, double vision, or loss of vision in one or both of their eyes?
  • Face: Is one side of the person's face drooping? Test this by asking them to smile.
  • Arms: Is the person experiencing numbness or weakness in their arms? Ask them to raise their arms.
  • Speech: Is the person's speech slurred? Are you having a hard time understanding them? Have them try to repeat a simple sentence.
  • Time to call for help: If the person is exhibiting one or a combination of the above signs, call 911 and get them to the nearest hospital as soon as possible.

Risk Factors

Lifestyle and medical factors contribute to the risk of stroke. Ramesh Grandhi, MD, a cerebrovascular neurosurgeon at University of Utah Health’s Stroke Center, emphasizes the need for primary care physicians to advise patients about their risk factors for having a stroke and encourage patients to take positive steps to improve any of the following lifestyle or medical characteristics they exhibit.

Lifestyle risk factors:

  • Overweight or obese
  • Heavy or binge drinking
  • Physical inactivity
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Use of illegal drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine

Medical risk factors:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Sleep apnea
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Hormone use, including estrogen

While stroke risk increases with age, anyone at any age can have a stroke. According to the CDC, about 38 percent of all people hospitalized for stroke are younger than age 65. Black and Hispanic patients also have a higher risk of stroke than people of other races.

Effects of Stroke

A stroke is a medical emergency that occurs when a blood vessel carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts, resulting in oxygen starvation, brain damage, and loss of function.

Grandhi points out the importance of determining which kind of stroke—an ischemic or a hemorrhagic—a patient has experienced. An ischemic stroke is a stroke that occurs when a clot blocks an artery in the brain. Ischemic strokes represent about 85 percent of all stroke cases.

When an artery bursts within the brain, a hemorrhagic stroke can occur due to risk factors such as hypertension (high blood pressure) or burst spontaneously and hemorrhage (bleeding). This type of stroke is less common and accounts for 15 percent of stroke cases.

"Each patient is different," Grandhi says. "Some require surgical intervention and follow-up care." He and his team work closely with neurologists with advanced training in the care of patients with stroke. Together, they are responsible for treating ischemic stroke patients and hemorrhagic stroke patients using a variety of techniques. Grandhi says the goals of follow-up care are improving the long-term outcomes for stroke survivors, prevention of a secondary stroke, and maximizing patients’ recovery by working together with a multi-disciplinary team of therapists and rehab physicians.

On World Stroke Day, learn about the signs, symptoms, and risk factors of stroke. Think of it as the first day of the rest of your life and resolve to improve your health, be alert, and react quickly to the BE FAST symptoms displayed by friends, family, and even strangers.