By Daniel Gaitan
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - May is National Stroke Awareness Month, and experts are using the time to teach Americans about the risk factors and warning signs.
“The public is dangerously uninformed about what stroke is, and what the signs and symptoms of stroke are, as well as the risk factors,” Jim Baranski, C.E.O. of the National Stroke Association, told Reuters Health.
Stroke is a brain attack, occurring when vital blood flow and oxygen to the brain are cut off or greatly reduced.
The National Stroke Association suggests using the word FAST to help recognize the signs of a stroke. F stands for Face: ask the person to smile, and see whether one side of the face droops. A stands for Arms: if both arms are raised, does one drift to the side? S stands for Speech: is it slurred, or strange? And T stands for Time: don’t waste time before calling 911 if someone has started to show any of these signs.
The American Stroke Association says that during a stroke, “Time lost is brain lost.” An estimated two million brain cells die every minute during a stroke, increasing risk of permanent brain damage, disability and death.
Nearly a million Americans suffer a stroke each year, with one occurring every 40 seconds, according to the National Stroke Association. There are an estimated seven million stroke survivors age 20 and older in the U.S.
Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death, and also a leading cause of adult disability.
"One way of preventing stroke is to control high blood pressure. If you don’t know (what your blood pressure is), get it checked,” Dr. Rani Whitfield told Reuters Health.
Whitfield, a family practitioner in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and national volunteer spokesperson for the American Stroke Association, added, “You should also maintain a healthy weight, exercise and don’t smoke. If you smoke, stop smoking today.”
The National Stroke Association says women, Hispanics and African-Americans are at higher risk for stroke compared to other groups, but they are less likely to recognize the warning signs. Each year, about 55,000 more women than men experience a stroke.
In an effort to reach Americans at the local level, the National Stroke Association has a list of organizations and medical centers working to educate and share stories from stroke survivors. (A list of community events is available here: http://bit.ly/1i8NPHA.)
Meanwhile, the American Stroke Association is using social media to facilitate discussion about stroke awareness; Facebook and Twitter users may join a “StrokeChat” or submit questions for discussion. (Join in here: http://bit.ly/1qYChAk.)
“All too often, stroke is thought of as your grandparents’ disease," said Baranski, of the National Stroke Association. "If you are younger, you don’t pay much attention to it.”
Baranski said he is excited about the association’s recent collaboration with CBS Cares; television and radio public service announcements highlighting the groups most susceptible to stroke will be aired throughout May.