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Be fast when a stroke is suspected

by KATHY HUBBARD / Contributing Writer
| February 7, 2024 1:00 AM

Since both my paternal grandparents and my father suffered severe ischemic events, the word "stroke" strikes fear in my heart. Particularly because it's the number one cause of disability in the U.S. and the fifth cause of death. So, preventing one is top-of-mind for me. Today, I'll make it top-of-mind for you, too.

Mayo Clinic explains that there are two types of strokes. "An ischemic stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is blocked or reduced. This prevents brain tissue from getting oxygen and nutrients. Brain cells begin to die in minutes. Another type of stroke is a hemorrhagic stroke. It occurs when a blood vessel in the brain leaks or bursts and causes bleeding in the brain. The blood increases pressure on brain cells and damages them."

A stroke is a medical emergency, and immediate care is critical. Everyone should know the signs and symptoms; the easiest way to remember them is the mnemonic BE FAST. Here they are combined from a few sources:

B = Balance. Is the person suddenly having trouble with balance or coordination? Are they staggering or complaining about severe vertigo?

E = Eyes. Is the person experiencing sudden blurred or double vision or a sudden vision loss in one or both eyes without pain?

F = Face drooping. Does one side of the face droop, or is it numb? Ask the person to smile to see if it's crooked. Ask them to move their tongue from side to side.

A = Arm weakness. Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one barely move or drift downward?

S = Speech difficulty. Is the person's speech slurred, unable to speak, or difficult to understand? Do they seem confused? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence such as "The sky is blue." Do they say it correctly?

T = Terrific headache, particularly one that comes on rapidly and increases in severity.

T can also stand for Time. I can't stress it strongly enough: if you suspect someone is having a stroke, call 911 immediately. Do not try to transport the person yourself. Emergency medical technicians are trained to administer aid to a person having a stroke; you're not.

Harvard Health says the most important thing we can do to prevent having a stroke is to lower our blood pressure.

"High blood pressure is a huge factor, doubling or even quadrupling your stroke risk if it is not controlled. Monitoring blood pressure and, if it is elevated, treating it, is probably the biggest difference people can make to their vascular health."

If you don't know your blood pressure, go to one of the pharmacies or grocery stores with free monitors. Or better yet, buy one for yourself to use at home. You can buy a decent one for under $20. Ask your healthcare provider what the optimum pressure is for you. You may need medication to keep it down.

Harvard says to "reduce the salt in your diet to no more than 1,500 milligrams a day (about a half teaspoon); avoid high-cholesterol foods, such as burgers, cheese, and ice cream; eat four to five cups of fruits and vegetables every day, one serving of fish two to three times a week, and several daily servings of whole grains and low-fat dairy."

Along with controlling your blood pressure, there are other things you can do. One is to get your BMI (body mass index) to 25 or less. Exercise at a moderate intensity at least five days a week. If you drink, do so in moderation, and if you smoke, stop. Keep your blood sugar under control as well.

"If you have atrial fibrillation, get it treated, Harvard says. "Atrial fibrillation is a form of irregular heartbeat that causes clots to form in the heart. Those clots can then travel to the brain, producing a stroke. Atrial fibrillation carries almost a fivefold risk of stroke and should be taken seriously."

There are some rare genetic conditions to be aware of, but today your takeaway is to remember to BE FAST and to call 911 immediately if you suspect someone, or you are having a stroke.


Kathy Hubbard is a member of the Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com. Have an idea for an article? Let me know.

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