Surviving a stroke

It’s all about knowing the signs

It’s all about knowing the signs

On average, one person in the U.S. dies from a stroke every four minutes. For those who survive, stroke is the leading cause of serious long-term disability.

May is American Stroke Month, and it’s a good time to review what you need to know to prevent, treat and beat stroke.

First let’s talk about what exactly is a stroke. It’s a brain attack. It happens when blood flowing to the brain is blocked. When that happens, brain cells begin to die and parts of the brain are damaged.

“Patients who get to an emergency room immediately after the onset of stroke symptoms tend to have less permanent brain damage than those who received care later,” said Leigh Foxx, R.N., a nurse navigator who assists patients following a stroke. “That’s why everyone should know the signs and know to call 911 immediately. Don’t try to drive yourself to the hospital or wait to see if symptoms get better or go away.”

While your chance of surviving a stroke is much better if you recognize the signs early, preventing a stroke in the first place is the real key.

“High blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking are the biggest risk factors for stroke,” Foxx said. “And, unfortunately, nearly half of all Americans have at least one of those risk factors.”

Changing your lifestyle by improving your diet, adding more exercising and quitting smoking can significantly reduce your chance of having a stroke. Talk to your primary care provider about how to reduce your risk factors. Take an online risk assessment and print your results to help you get the conversation started with your healthcare provider.

Could you spot a stroke?

According to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 93 percent of respondents recognized the No. 1 sign of stroke — sudden numbness on one side of the body. However, only about one-third of respondents were aware of other major symptoms and knew to call 911 when someone was having a stroke. How well can Louisville-area residents spot a stroke? We found out:

“Slurred speech and the person’s balance is off.” Michael Hayes, Louisville, Kentucky

He’s absolutely right. During a stroke, one side of the face usually becomes numb or paralyzed, making it difficult to move the mouth, smile and speak. If you think someone is having a stroke, ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, such as “The sky is blue.” If the person slurs words or cannot speak, that’s a red flag for stroke.

“Aren’t the signs of stroke similar to a heart attack?” Robert Schwarz, Louisville, Kentucky

Not quite. With both emergencies the arms may be affected, but the difference is with a stroke, the arm may feel numb or weak. With a heart attack, you may feel pain or achiness that radiates from the chest or down the arm. However, if you have heart disease, you are at risk for both stroke and heart attack. Reducing your risk for stroke also reduces your risk for heart attack, so the two do have something in common.

“I had a stroke in 2001 so I know the signs — whether you can smile, say your name and put your arms over your head.” Pat Day, Madisonville, Kentucky

Right again. In addition to the face, numbness and paralysis can affect one side of the body, such as an arm or leg. Ask the person to try to raise an arm. If the person cannot lift it or the arm drifts down or to the side, that’s a sign of a stroke. Now what do you do?

“Call 911! My grandmother has stroke information posted on her refrigerator, so I know the signs.” Jasmine Harris, Louisville, Kentucky

Correct. Call 911 or get the person to a hospital immediately. Don’t wait to see if symptoms get better. Doctors have only a few hours to treat a stroke successfully, and the sooner they can start the better the outcome. Without quick treatment, brain damage and even death can occur.

Stroke Awareness Day at Jefferson Mall

Come to Jefferson Mall on Saturday, May 16, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and learn more about stroke prevention. About 20 exhibitors will be on hand in the center court near Macy’s to provide free information about stroke. Norton Healthcare will be offering free stroke risk assessments and blood pressure, blood sugar and body mass index checks.


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