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How to recognize when someone is having a stroke

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Archana Rao, Shannon Clinic Neurology and Sleep Medicine
Published 7:00 a.m. CT May 7, 2020

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Stroke is a disease that occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is suddenly blocked by a clot, or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, causing blood to spill into the spaces surrounding the brain cells, ultimately killing them.

A stroke that happens due to a blockage of the artery to the brain is called ischemic; a stroke caused by bleeding into or around the brain is referred to as hemorrhagic. The brain can suffer significant damage quickly from the lack of oxygen and nutrients.

This disease can happen to anyone, regardless of age, gender and ethnicity. In the United States, it is the No. 5 cause of death and one of the leading causes of disability. Individuals who have a stroke are more likely to have another — about 25 percent of people who recover from their first stroke will have another within 5 years.

Although stroke is a brain disease, it can affect the entire body. Survivors of stroke could develop problems with thinking, awareness, attention, learning, judgement and memory. Other disabilities that could develop range from difficulty controlling your emotions to having numbness and strange sensations in certain areas of your body. In some cases, complete paralysis on one side of the body, also referred to as hemiplegia, occurs.

When it comes to stroke, every minute counts. Certain symptoms of a stroke can be easier to identify than others; it is imperative to B.E. F.A.S.T. and get you or someone else the help they need.

B.E. F.A.S.T.:

Learn to spot the signs of a stroke with the B.E. F.A.S.T. acronym:

B: Balance – Do they have sudden loss of balance, have a headache or are dizzy?

E: Eyes – Are they experiencing blurred vision?

F: Face – Is their face drooping?

A: Arms – Can they lift both arms?

S: Speech – Is their speech slurred and do they understand you?

T: Time – Time is critical. Call 911 for an ambulance.

Knowing these signs can help save someone’s life, but taking preventive measures is the best form of treatment. There are three types of risk factors that may increase your odds of having a stroke — non-modifiable, modifiable and emerging.

Non-modifiable risk factors, which you have no control over, include things such as genetics, age, gender, birth weight and race.

Modifiable risk factors — things you have control to change — range from a wide variety of things like high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and a healthy diet.

Emerging risk factors are things that begin occurring and can be taken as warning signs, such as migraines, obstructive sleep apnea, gum disease, blood markers (lipoprotein) and infection.

Patients who have a genetic history of stroke should talk to their doctor about the best practices to prevent one from happening. Common preventive measures include controlling blood pressure, exercising, quitting smoking, identifying atrial fibrillation, managing your cholesterol and blood sugar and abstaining from abusing alcohol and drugs. Starting these healthy habits sooner rather than later is recommended, but it’s never too late. Even the smallest of steps can make a difference in improving your health and preventing stroke.

For more information on stroke, set up an appointment with your primary care physician. People without a primary care physician can call Shannon Medical Center’s Doctor Matchmaker at 325-481-2343.

Archana Rao, MD works at Shannon Clinic Neurology and Sleep Medicine.

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