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Published on April 30, 2015

Be Aware of Stroke Risk and Warning Signs

SIOUX FALLS (May 1, 2015) - Because the brain is the body’s “control center” for every major function, stroke is like a power outage that might leave permanent damage or even cause death. May is American Stroke Month, a time to be aware of stroke risk and warning signs.

Stroke can occur at any age, and happens when a blood vessel is blocked or breaks, interrupting blood flow to the brain. A stroke deprives the affected portion of the brain of oxygen, causing death or damage of those nerve cells. When a stroke damages a certain part of the brain, it can cause problems with walking, speaking, seeing or sensation.

A stroke occurs about every 40 seconds. Stroke is a leading cause of long-term disability and the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. Every year, about 795,000 Americans suffer stroke, and 130,000 die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For stroke survivors, damage can range from minimal to life-changing. “The majority of stroke survivors do improve. That makes aggressive treatment and post-stroke rehab very important,” said William Rossing, MD, Medical Director of the Stroke Center at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center.

Risk factors include smoking, family history, uncontrolled high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and other vascular issues, such as an abnormal heart rhythm. Causes of stroke in younger people can also include congenital heart abnormalities or vascular trauma brought on by injuries or even sports.

Signs and symptoms of stroke include:

1. Sudden numbness or weakness, especially on one side of the body

2. Sudden confusion or trouble speaking or difficulty understanding speech

3. Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

4. Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination

5. Sudden severe headache with no known cause

If you, or someone you love experiences one or more of these symptoms, call 911.

It’s important to get medical help as quickly as possible. Stroke can be diagnosed and quickly treated with powerful clot-dissolving medication, t-PA. This IV treatment is most effective if given within up to 4.5 hours of the last known “well” time, making it urgent to get to a care facility soon after symptoms appear.

Some strokes are preceded by a TIA (a transient ischemic attack), marked by stroke symptoms which come and go. “A TIA is a warning sign for a future stroke, yet it’s unpredictable – it could happen within 48 hours, or in two years,” Dr. Rossing said. So even if stroke symptoms disappear, don’t wait; seek medical help.

Like many other medical conditions, the best medicine is prevention. “If you’re a smoker, quit. Maintain a healthy weight, eat healthy, get plenty of exercise, and limit alcohol use,” Dr. Rossing said. Also, make sure to take your medications as prescribed for high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes.  

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