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To Your Health: FAST, Can You Spot the Warning Signs When Someone is Having a Stroke?

by on January 03, 2015 6:00 AM

Someone has a stroke every 40 seconds in the United States, making stroke the nation's fifth leading cause of death.

Because a stroke can happen to any person at any time, knowing the signs and symptoms of a stroke should be one of your top health priorities in 2015.

A stroke occurs when vital blood flow and oxygen to the brain are cut off. When a blood clot blocks an artery, or a blood vessel breaks, blood flow to the brain is interrupted, brain cells begin to die, and brain damage occurs. As brain cells are affected during a stroke, abilities such as speech, movement, and memory can be lost. Stroke patients are affected in different ways, depending on where the stroke occurs in the brain and how much of the brain is damaged.

When someone is having a stroke, time is of the essence. By acting quickly, precious brain cells and lives can be saved.

The acronym FAST can help to recognize the signs of a stroke and remind you to act quickly.

F- Face drooping: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop or is it numb?

A- Arm weakness: Ask the person to raise both arms. Is one arm weak or numb? Does one arm drift downward?

S- Speech difficulty: Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Is speech slurred, are they unable to speak, or are they hard to understand?

T- Time: If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if they go away, call 911 and get them to the hospital immediately.

Beyond this acronym, you should be aware of sudden numbness or weakness of the leg, sudden confusion or trouble understanding, sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes, sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination, or sudden severe headache with no known cause. Make sure you're also marking down the time that these symptoms started.

While many risk factors may be beyond your control (such as being over the age of 55), there are lifestyle and medical changes you can make to reduce your risk of stroke. We call these modifiable risk factors.

If you've had a previous stroke (including a "mini stroke"), or if you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, atrial fibrillation or carotid artery disease, a healthcare professional may be able to help you control and manage your risk for stroke.

Being overweight, smoking, and drinking too much alcohol can also increase your risk for stroke. It's important to eat healthily, quit smoking, exercise regularly, and limit alcohol consumption to limit stroke risk.

In addition, there are other risk factors for stroke that are unique to women, which may include the following:

  • Taking birth control pills
  • Being pregnant
  • Using hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
  • Having a waist greater than 35 inches and high triglyceride level
  • Being a migraine headache sufferer

Luckily for us, stroke care is also a top priority for our local Emergency Medical Services providers and healthcare institutions. Mount Nittany Health was recently awarded Primary Stroke Center accreditation from The Joint Commission, and was also recognized as having the fastest "door to needle" time among select area hospitals. This means that the tPA (important, clot-busting medication) was administered in a timely fashion.

Overall, our goal is to educate more people to understand the symptoms and the urgency that is associated with stroke. Stroke is a real issue in our area, and it can happen to anyone at any time. We have to be aware.

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Susan Maynard is a stroke nurse coordinator for Mount Nittany Medical Center. Susan and her husband are proud parents of a 3-year-old and 2-year-old twins. In her spare time, Susan enjoys spending time with family, exercising, gardening, and exploring local specialties. She's also a lifelong Penn State football fan.
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