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Learn the signs of stroke, take steps to reduce the risk

May marks National Stroke Awareness Month. This month alone, about 65,000 Americans will experience a stroke, with many unaware they even were at risk. Less than a third will reach an emergency room within three hours, the optimal time period for better outcomes.

This month, the National Stroke Association is turning the spotlight on the 10 modifiable risk factors that account for 90% of strokes globally. Hypertension remains the single most-important modifiable risk factor, accounting for nearly 48% of strokes. With eight in 10 people experiencing their first stroke having hypertension, checking blood pressure is an important first step toward controlling a person’s stroke risk.

Research has shown that unhealthy behaviors — such as physical inactivity, poor diet and smoking — have an adverse effect on health and increase the risk of stroke. For example, smokers can be two to four times more likely to suffer a stroke compared with a nonsmoker or those who have quit for longer than 10 years.

During National Stroke Awareness Month, the National Stroke Association urges the public to look at their stroke risk factors and pledge to make at least one change to reduce their risk.

The odds of a stroke could be reduced by these amounts by eliminating these factors:

– Hypertension, 47.9%;

– Physical inactivity, 35.8%;

– Lipids, or blood fats, 26.8%;

– Poor diet, 23.2%;

– Obesity, 18.6%;

– Smoking, 12.4%;

– Heart causes, 9.1%;

– Alcohol intake, 5.8%;

– Stress, 5.8%;

– Diabetes, 3.9%.

Beyond reducing the risk for stroke, knowing the signs and symptoms of a stroke are equally important. Every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. has a stroke and about 800,000 people will have a stroke in the United States this year alone.

“Learning how to recognize a stroke is just as important as reducing your risk factors,” said Robyn Moore, CEO of the National Stroke Association. “We know that recognition of stroke symptoms leads to receiving medical attention faster, which results in better outcomes.”

Sadly, however, fewer than half of 911 calls for stroke are made within one hour of symptom onset and fewer than half of callers correctly identify stroke as the reason for their call.

The acronym FAST is an easy way to identify the most common symptoms of a stroke:

– F for Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

– A for Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

– S for Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Is their speech slurred?

– T for Time: If any of these signs are seen, call 911 immediately.

A common misconception is that strokes occur only in older adults. While stroke risk does increases with age, a stroke can happen to anyone at any time. About 15% of ischemic strokes occur in young adults and adolescents.

The need for public awareness surrounding stroke prevention and awareness has never been greater. Despite being a leading cause of adult long-term disability and the fifth-leading cause of death, less than 1 in 5 Americans can correctly classify all five stroke symptoms.

The time to take action is now. This May, during National Stroke Awareness month, get to know these stroke risk factors and learn to better identify the signs and symptoms of stroke.

For information and resources on aging or living with a disability, contact the Aging and Disability Resource Center of Florence County at 715-528-4890 or go to the web site at www.florencecountywi.com, click on “Departments” and then “Aging & Disability Resource Center.”

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