Stroke Awareness Month in May provides an opportunity to learn common symptoms and your own risks for the condition. Worldwide, stroke is a leading cause of death and disability. Quickly getting medical help makes a huge difference in outcomes.
Kwan Ng, a vascular neurologist and chief of the Comprehensive Stroke Center at UC Davis Health, said many people think of stroke as a condition of age.
“While risk increases with age, stroke can occur at any age,” Ng said. “We are in fact seeing more younger stroke patients today [under age 50] than ever before.”
Stroke happens when either a burst or blocked blood vessel reduces blood flow to the brain and kills brain cells. Current treatments are highly effective, however getting help quickly is essential to the success of that treatment.
“We think about stroke in increments of time — with every 30 minutes that can be shaved off the response time, there’s an associated decrease in morbidity and mortality,” Ng said. “It's important to be aware of the symptoms and get help right away if one or more of them is happening to you.”
Know the symptoms and what to do: BE FAST
When it comes to stroke symptoms and actions, Ng says you just have to remember two words — BE FAST — which stands for:
B – balance loss, especially sudden
E – eyesight loss, especially sudden
F – face drooping or numbness
A – arm weakness or numbness
S – speech difficulty, especially slurred speech
T – time to call 911
Other common symptoms that should trigger a call for emergency response include:
- Sudden numbness or weakness in a leg or on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion or trouble understanding speech
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness or coordination
- Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
Avoid stroke by controlling risks
Common stroke risks, according to Ng, are high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity and diabetes. Women also have unique risks, including use of certain types of birth control pills, use of hormone replacement therapy and migraines with aura.
Ng advises talking with your primary care doctor about your specific risks for stroke and how to minimize them.
“The causes of stroke in many cases are preventable or controllable with lifestyle change and careful medication management,” Ng said. “We have, however, treated patients who don’t have any of the typical risk factors, which is why we are such strong advocates for symptom awareness.”
More stroke facts are available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Information on the UC Davis Health Comprehensive Stroke Center is online.