The death of actor Luke Perry this week is a tragic reminder that stroke can affect anyone, anytime. While the risk of stroke increases with age, it can occur at any age.

Vascular neurologist Kwan Ng offers advice about stroke symptoms and prevention.
Vascular neurologist Kwan Ng offers advice about stroke symptoms and prevention.

Stroke happens when either a burst or blocked blood vessel reduces blood flow to the brain and kills brain cells. It is a leading cause of death and disability worldwide.

Kwan Ng, director of vascular neurology and the stroke center at UC Davis Health, reminds everyone that stroke treatment is 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: FAST

When it comes to stroke symptoms and actions, Ng says you just have to remember one word — FAST — which stands for:

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 seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

Avoid stroke by controlling risks

“You should also talk with your primary care doctor about your risks for stroke and how to minimize them,” Ng said.

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.

“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 Stroke Program is online.

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