May is an enjoyable month, with flowers in full bloom and the promise of warmer weather on the way. May is also National Stroke Awareness Month, and a great time to educate yourself on how to manage stroke risk factors and reduce your risk of stroke.
While some risk factors for stroke are unavoidable, such as age, gender, race and family history, many are controllable. According to the National Stroke Association, up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented by working closely with a healthcare professional to manage, reduce or eliminate risk factors. Controllable risk factors for stroke include high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity and smoking. Experts at GBMC’s Primary Stroke Center state that the risk of stroke is significantly decreased when these risk factors are addressed.
Simple lifestyle changes can help you drastically reduce your risk. Since high blood pressure is the leading cause of strokes, be sure that your primary care physician is regularly monitoring your blood pressure and that you take any blood pressure medications exactly as prescribed. If you have diabetes, be sure to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and take all medication as prescribed. If you are obese, consider a weight loss program; the risk of stroke increases even if you are only 20 pounds overweight. Quitting smoking will significantly reduce your risk—smokers are twice as likely to have a stroke as non-smokers. Other healthy lifestyle changes, such as becoming more physically active, help reduce your risk of stroke.
If you think someone is having stroke symptoms, you should always call 911, even if the symptoms go away. The warning signs of a stroke can be explained using the acronym FAST, which stands for Face, Arms, Speech and Time. If you suspect someone is having a stroke, ask them to smile. If one side of the face is drooping, this is a clear indication for stroke. Next, ask the person to raise both arms. If one arm is drifting downward, this is another clear indication of stroke. To check if the person’s speech is slurring, a possible sign of stroke, ask them to say a sentence. Mumbled, slurred speech is a common occurrence during a stroke. Lastly, time is of the essence: if you observe any of these signs, call 911 immediately.