May is National Stroke Awareness Month.
A stroke can happen in an instant, changing a person’s life forever. The earlier a stroke is recognized and treated, the greater the chance of recovery. Remembering the acronym FAST is an easy way to learn how to recognize a stroke and what to do to minimize its long-term damaging effects.
- F is for Face: Does the person’s face look uneven?
- A is for Arm: Is one arm hanging down?
- S is for Speech: Is the person’s speech slurred? Does the person have trouble speaking or seem confused?
- T is for Time: Call 911 now!
Although stroke is very common and is the leading cause of disability in adults in the U.S., most can be attributed to modifiable risk factors. Taking the time to make a few simple lifestyle adjustments can save thousands of lives each year:
- Reduce salt intake. High blood pressure is one of the leading causes of stroke. Cutting back on salt is one of the most significant steps to maintaining or lowering blood pressure to a healthy level of 130/80 or below. Try flavoring your food with a variety of spices that may be healthier than salt.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet. Maintaining a healthy balance between your good cholesterol (HDL) and bad cholesterol (LDL) is the best way to prevent high cholesterol, heart disease and the increased risk of stroke. Cholesterol levels should remain at 200 mg/dl or below.
- Stop smoking. Smoking is bad not only for your lungs, but for your brain as well. A smoker is at twice the risk of having a stroke because smoking damages blood vessels, raises blood pressure and speeds up the clogging of arteries.
- Exercise. If you are obese or overweight, you are not only more likely to develop high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes, you are more likely to have a stroke. Extra weight places an added strain on your entire circulatory system, but aerobic exercise helps reduce stroke risk and can be a good way to lose those extra pounds and substantially improve your health.
And remember to see your doctor regularly in order to monitor your blood pressure and other medical risk factors.
Dr. Ji Y. Chong
Director of the Stroke Center at New York-Presbyterian/Lower Manhattan Hospital