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American Stroke Month: 5 Things to Know about Stroke

Every year, nearly 800,000 people suffer from stroke, a serious neurological condition that occurs when blood flow to a part of the brain is restricted, causing cell death that leads to lack of memory and muscle control.

Stroke affects thousands of Americans every year, but there’s so much more we can do to prevent it — and that starts with awareness. May is American Stroke Month, so here are five things you should know about this condition.

A Stroke Can Be Fatal

Unfortunately, stroke happens far too often. Every 40 seconds, someone has a stroke and every four minutes a person dies from the condition. The condition is the leading cause of cause of disability in the U.S. and is the fifth leading cause of death behind heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease and accidents.

Age is a Factor

The majority of stroke victims are over age 60, with people 80 and older making up the largest share of victims. However, studies have shown that 10-15 percent of stroke cases occur in people 45 and younger. When stroke occurs in younger people, it is so unusual that it is sometimes misdiagnosed as a seizure, vertigo or migraine.

Ischemic Strokes Make Up the Majority of Stroke Cases

Ischemic stroke, which occurs when the arteries narrow and restrict blood flow to the brain, accounts for 85 percent of stroke cases. Ischemic stroke causes blood clots, putting stroke victims are higher risk for long-term or irreversible brain damage. Other types of stroke include hemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when the brain arteries leak blood or burst; and transient ischemic attack, which is often caused by blood clots and temporarily interrupts blood flow to the brain.

There are Clear Warning Signs

The warning signs of stroke are very particular and should be cause for alarm if you are in a high risk group, are over 60 and experience one or or more of these symptoms. Warning signs include slurred speech, blurred vision, a sudden headache and numbness on one side of your body, arms or legs. If you can’t maintain your balance and experience nausea, fever or trouble swallowing along with this symptom, it also could be a sign of stroke.

Some Risk Factors are Treatable

The risk of stroke doubles for people between the ages of 55 and 85. However, gender also plays a role. Men are more likely to experience stroke, but women are more likely to die from it. Also, the risk of stroke is double in African-Americans and Hispanic Americans. Genetics may be a factor, but high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity also play a role in the increased risk for these groups. However, the silver lining is that many of these risk factors can be reduced with lifestyle changes. High blood pressure is the top risk factor for stroke, but changing your diet and maintaining a healthy body weight through regular physical activity can lower this risk. Smoking also doubles stroke risk (it quadruples the risk of hemorrhagic stroke, as well), so quitting could have a significant impact on stroke risk.

Stroke is a debilitating condition that affects far too many Americans each year. It can have a long-term impact on a person’s ability to walk and to speak. The best thing you can do to avoid stroke is to take steps to lower your risk. Make lifestyle changes to reduce your blood pressure, quit smoking if this is a habit and focus on controlling diabetes symptoms, if you have this condition. Making this effort will improve your health and lower your risk.

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