Strokes are life threatening events that occur when the brain tissue does not receive adequate blood circulation, either from an artery being blocked by a clot or rupturing, causing the brain cells to die. Stroke is the 5th leading cause of death in the United States and often produces disabilities in survivors.  Prevention and early recognition to allow for quicker treatment are two keys in the quest to manage the disease. 

How to Prevent a Stroke. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), 80% of strokes are preventable. The most effective way to decrease stroke related deaths and disabilities is to keep them from happening in the first place. To do this, it is important to know what one’s potential risk factors are and how to reduce the probability. 

Here is a list of risk factors and what can be done to minimize them. 

  1. High blood pressure. It is important to get your blood pressure checked regularly. If you have been diagnosed with hypertension/high blood pressure by a medical professional, keep your blood pressure in a healthy range (determined by your healthcare provider) through diet, exercise and medication to reduce your risk of stroke. 
  2. High cholesterol. Elevated cholesterol levels have been associated with blood clots and stroke. Similarly to high blood pressure, you can reduce your risk by maintaining a healthy diet, exercising and taking medications such as statins if prescribed by your healthcare provider. 
  3. Smoking/tobacco use. The use of tobacco products also increases the risk of having a stroke. You can talk to your healthcare provider about which quitting method is best for you. For more information on smoking and heart disease, check out our related blog post here
  4. Diabetes. People with diabetes are also at an increased risk of stroke. However, controlling your diabetes by decreasing your blood sugar levels and increasing your “time in range” greatly reduces your risk of having a stroke. 
  5. Other cardiovascular conditions. If you have another cardiovascular condition such as heart failure or atrial fibrillation, your risk of stroke is higher. In the case of atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers of the heart do not pump the blood out effectively so the blood pools in the chamber which can lead to blood clots and stroke. Managing your cardiovascular condition, with the guidance of a medical professional,  may also reduce the risk of having a stroke. 

How to Recognize a Stroke. Because of the brain cell damage that occurs due to lack of blood supply and oxygen with a stroke, rapid recognition and treatment is very important to minimize the damage to the brain tissue. The AHA recommends using the acronym F.A.S.T. to help in identifying warning signs. 

  • F = Face Drooping – Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile uneven? 
  • A = Arm Weakness – Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward? 
  • S = Speech Difficulty – Is speech slurred?  
  • T = Time to Call 911 – Stroke is an emergency. Every minute counts. Call 911 immediately. Note the time when any of the symptoms first appear. 

Other potential signs of a stroke to watch for include the following: numbness/weakness (especially on one side of the body), mental confusion, vision changes/trouble seeing, trouble walking and headache. 

By reducing your risk factors to help prevent a stroke as well as knowing what signs/symptoms to watch for and when to seek medical attention, you may save your own life or someone else’s! You can start today by making a plan to be more active, monitoring your health conditions and remembering F.A.S.T.