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Stroke Symptoms and the Importance of Early Recognition


Within the United States of America, 700,000 people suffer from a stroke every year.

A stroke takes place when a blood vessel in the brain is blocked by a clot or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. Because this cuts off blood and oxygen to parts of the brain, those deprived areas will begin to die within four minutes. Brain damage is irreversible, making the importance of early recognition obvious. Oxygen and blood need to be restored to all areas of the brain as quickly as possible. Half of the people who suffer from a stroke will have long-term problems.

Early recognition and prompt treatment improve your chances of limited damage and a full recovery.

The first step in early recognition of a stroke is recognizing that you are at risk.

Certain diseases and medical conditions can add to your risk of a stroke: high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, coronary artery disease, peripheral arterial disease, and other heart conditions (such as atrial fibrillation, endocarditis, heart attack, heart valve conditions, and patent foramen ovale). Because of the negative affects these have on your heart, arteries, and circulation, they increase your risk of a stroke. These risk factors are largely out of your control.

Other risk factors are also out of your control: age, race (African Americans, Native Americans, and Alaskan Natives are at higher risk), family history, and previous stroke.

Some risk factors, however, you can control: smoking, exposure to secondhand smoke, being overweight, inactivity, a low-fiber diet, a high-salt diet, birth control pills, heavy drinking, or illegal drug use.

The second step in early recognition is knowing the common symptoms the indicate a stroke. You may be having a stroke if you experience a sudden occurrence of the following symptoms:

-a loss of equilibrium, balance, or coordination; dizziness; or difficulty walking
-a severe headache, especially if you are not prone to headaches
-confused, garbled, or slurred speech
-confusion or trouble grasping what someone else is saying to you
-vision problems (blurriness, double-vision, blindness, or dimming)
-paralysis, numbness, or weakness, especially if it is localized on one side of your body

If you have any combination of the risk factors and experience any of the symptoms, get medical help immediately.

For more information on stroke symptoms and the importance of early recognition, visit the American Stroke Association or the National Stroke Association.