American Stroke Month

Fact: Stroke is one of the leading causes of disability in the United States.
In our country, a stroke may occur once every 40 seconds.

Fact: Stroke can happen to anyone at any time - regardless of age, sex or race.

Fact: Two million brain cells die every minute during a stroke – that is 7 miles of brain cells that are permanently dead or damaged.

Fact: Good news! 80 percent of strokes can be prevented - a good point to remember this May during American Stroke Month.

What is a stroke?
A stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain is blocked or bursts. Blood vessels supply oxygen and nutrients to the brain. When these vessels become blocked or burst, the brain does not receive the oxygen and nutrients it needs, causing brain cells to die. A stroke must be treated rapidly and as an emergency in order to attempt to reverse the affects of the brain cell damage.

Due to the time restrictions in stroke treatment, it is important to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of a stroke. Previously, we have used the mnemonic F.A.S.T. - face, arm, speech, time to call 911 - to help identify stroke victims.

We now have an updated way to remember the signs to identify if you are having a stroke or see someone that you suspect is having a stroke. The two new letters are B and E.

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

Balance. Does the person have a sudden loss of balance or coordination, or sudden dizziness?

Eyes. Did the person have a sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes, or double vision? What does the person see?

Face Drooping. Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Does the smile and face seem uneven?

Arm weakness. Is one arm or leg weak or numb? Is there decreased sensation? Ask the person to raise both arms, does one drift downward or is the person unable to move their arms or legs?

Speech difficulty. Is the person’s speech slurred or garbled? Is he or she unable to speak or having difficulty with speaking? Is he or she able to understand what you’re saying?

Time to call 9-1-1 if the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away. Call 9-1-1 and get to the hospital immediately! “T” also stands for the time symptoms started or the last time the person was known to be well. Healthcare workers will need to know the time the symptoms began or the “last known normal” time.

Remember, B.E.F.A.S.T!

Do you know if you have risks for stroke? Prevention is key! It is important to know your stroke risk factors.

There are certain risk factors that one cannot control, such as:
• Aging;
• Gender – women are more at risk;
• Race – African Americans are more at risk;
• Family history;
• Personal history of stroke or “mini stroke,” referred to medically as a TIA.

But there are risk factors that we can control. Do you have:

High blood pressure, or hypertension? Know your numbers. Talk to your primary care physician about a good blood pressure goal for you and how to keep the numbers close to that goal.

High cholesterol? Know your levels and how to control them – especially your bad cholesterol or LDL. Your LDL target goal should be less than 70, especially if you had a previous stroke or heart attack.

Irregular heart rhythm or atrial fibrillation? Talk to your doctor if you think you have a concerning irregular heart rhythm associated with stroke and follow your doctor’s orders for care.

Diabetes? Control your blood sugars to prevent stroke.

Sleep apnea? See your family doctor to get appropriate referrals for testing and treatment.

Extra pounds? Being overweight or having poor nutritional habits is a factor. Talk to your primary care provider and ask if you would be a candidate for nutritional counseling. You may also learn more from reputable sources such as the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association.

A tobacco habit? Please stop; it will only worsen your stroke risk. Smoking cessation classes are available through Penn Highlands Healthcare, and a Smoking Cessation Support Group is held at 6 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of the month in the DuBois Community Medical Building, 621 S. Main St., DuBois, for free. It’s a great way to learn ways to quit tobacco you smoke or chew.

Remember: diet and exercise programs, taking prescribed medications regularly, limiting alcohol use, managing stress and scheduling a yearly physical are all recommended for reducing stroke risk.

Please don’t be a statistic. Know your risk. It is important to recognize these risk factors that you can control. Discuss treatment options for risk factors with your primary care provider. Stroke risk can be reduced by managing risk factors.

It’s never too late to be stroke smart.
• Reduce risk;
• Recognize the symptoms;
• Respond by calling 9-1-1.

For further information regarding stroke prevention and risk assessment, contact me at 814-375-6476. If you have had a stroke, feel free to join me at the Stroke Support Group held at 1 p.m. on scheduled Mondays at Friendship Hose Co. No. 2, DuBois. Call me for details or go online to for the meeting dates under “events.”

Also, everyone is invited to a free American Stroke Month Health Fair from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Friday, May 17, at Penn Highlands Elk in the Education Center and from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Friday, May 24, in the atrium of Penn Highlands DuBois West.