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May is National Stroke Awareness Month

Did you know that stroke – the No. 2 most common cause of death worldwide – is preventable, treatable and beatable?

A stroke or "brain attack" occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery or a blood vessel breaks, interrupting blood flow to an area of the brain. When either of these things happen, brain cells begin to die and brain damage occurs. That's why a stroke should be treated as an emergency.

Because a clot-busting drug can only be administered to stroke patients within the first three hours of the onset of stroke, recognizing stroke symptoms is very important and can be easy if you remember to think FAST.

Another Stroke Awareness FAST logo

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 or lopsided?

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? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like "The sky is blue." Is the person able to correctly repeat the words?

T = Time to Call 9-1-1: If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and say, "I think this is a stroke" to help get the person to the hospital immediately. Time is important! Don't delay, and also note the time when the first symptoms appeared. Emergency responders will want to know.

Reducing Stroke Risk

In addition to watching for stroke warning signs, here are some steps you can take to understand and minimize your stroke risk factors that can be controlled.

  • Work Closely with Your Health Care Professional to control high blood pressure, high cholesterol, atrial fibrillation and diabetes. Your doctor may recommend different medications or procedures to help prevent another stroke. For ischemic strokes, these may include interventions to improve blood flow in arteries that are clogged. If any medication is prescribed, you will need to take them exactly as directed and watch for any side effects that may occur.
  • If You Smoke Cigarettes, Stop Smoking. The risk of ischemic stroke in current smokers is double that of nonsmokers.
  • Consume Alcohol Sensibly. Regular heavy drinking can raise blood pressure.
  • Eat a Healthy Diet. This includes decreasing or eliminating your intake of saturated and trans fats, lowering sodium intake to about 2000mg daily, and eating more fruits and vegetables. Most processed and fast foods should be avoided.
  • Exercise Regularly. Exercise has many beneficial effects on our heart and blood vessels. It strengthens the heart muscle, increases oxygen intake, keeps blood flowing smoothly, lowers blood pressure and helps maintain a healthy weight
  • Take Time to Enjoy Life and Lower Stress Levels. Although a certain amount of stress is unavoidable, studies suggest that stress contributes to high blood pressure. By managing stress with exercise, relaxation techniques and counseling, if needed, stroke risk may be reduced.

More than half of all strokes are caused by uncontrolled hypertension, making it the most important risk factor to control.

When it comes to stroke, immediate treatment saves lives. Lowell General Hospital’s Stroke Center team is ready to provide timely, effective treatment close to home.

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