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May is national stroke awareness month, experts urge monitoring risk factor

Category: General Health

Every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S has a new or recurrent stroke, according to the American Stroke Association, or about 795,000 Americans a year, making it the third leading cause of death in the country. The warning signs appear suddenly, and the effects of a stroke can be devastating.

May is national stroke awareness month, and various medical societies, spearheaded by the ASA, are attempting to educate the American public about how to reduce their risk of having one. Almost 80 percent of strokes are preventable, according to the association.

While some risk factors for stroke, such as age or genetic predisposition, cannot be modified, a number of risk factors can be controlled and tested for.

The simplest of these are lifestyle factors: smoking, an unhealthy diet and sedentary living all contribute to the risk of stroke and can be changed.

Other risk factors are internal, and can be monitored by various blood tests.

High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke and the single most important controllable risk factor for stroke. High blood pressure is defined as systolic blood pressure greater than or equal to140 millimeters of mercury, or diastolic blood pressure of 90 or higher. Normal is 120/80. As many as 50 million Americans 6 years old or older have high blood pressure. Of the one in every four adults with high blood pressure, 31.6 percent are not aware they have it.

The reason high blood pressure is a common cause of stroke is because it puts excessive stress on blood vessel walls, which can cause them to deteriorate over time, leading to the rupture which can cause a stroke. The thickening can also cause fatty deposits to break off, resulting in a clot that blocks an artery in the brain.

Diabetes is another risk factor for stroke. Even though diabetes often is accompanied by high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and obesity, diabetes without any of those elements still increases stroke risk, according to the American Heart Association. There are 23.6 million children and adults in the U.S., or 7.8 percent of the population, according to the American Diabetes Association. More dangerously, they believe that 5.7 million people are unaware that they have the disease. Diabetes can be assessed through blood glucose tests.

Another major risk factor is high blood cholesterol. Much like heart disease, it is LDL, or "bad" cholesterol that increases risk. In men, it appears that low HDL is also a predictor of stroke, but more data are needed to verify this finding. The ASA recommends that every adult over 20 have their cholesterol levels tested at least once every five years – more often than that if there are other risk factors that might be at play.

All forms of heart disease, such as atrial fibrillation, congenital heart defects, cardiomyopathy and peripheral or coronary heart disease also increase risk of stroke.

After a stroke, speed is of the essence in minimizing the damage caused, and so the ASA has come up with a simple mnemonic to help people remember the symptoms of a stroke and to call for help.

They call it FAST, and it is an acronym. F is for Face; you should ask the person to smile and note if one side of the face droops. A is for Arm; asking the person to raise both their arms. If one of the arms drifts downwards, that's another sign of a stroke. S is for Speech; a person who has had a stroke will have slurred or strange-sounding speech. Time is the final letter. If you observe any of the signs, it's time to call 911.ADNFCR-2248-ID-19177958-ADNFCR

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