National Stroke Awareness Month: Are you at risk of a stroke?

May 2, 2018

by Lisa DeMello, MSN, ACNS-BC
Stroke Coordinator and Clinical Nurse Specialist, Saint Anne’s Hospital

May is National Stroke Awareness Month – a good time to remind ourselves about the importance about the signs and symptoms of stroke, risk factors, and the importance of calling 911.

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and a serious cause of long-term disability in the United States. According to the American Stroke Association, approximately 795,000 people experience a new or recurrent stroke each year.

Eighty-seven percent of these strokes are considered ischemic, and are the result of an obstruction in blood flow to the brain which prevents the brain from receiving necessary blood and oxygen. Without blood and oxygen, the nerve cells die and the result may result in a significant disability, including paralysis, speech problems and emotional difficulties. The remaining 13% of strokes are considered hemorrhagic and may be the result of bleeding into the brain from a ruptured blood vessel. The same disability may result.

Time is crucial in the treatment of stroke.  Early recognition and treatment may reduce disability. If you suspect a stroke, think FAST:

  • F is for face: Is the face drooping?
  • A is for arms: Can the person lift both arms?
  • S is for speech: Are the words slurred?
  • T is for time: Call 911 immediately, because with stroke, time is brain.

Stroke symptoms may include these sudden changes:

  • numbness or weakness on one side of the face or the face is drooping
  • numbness or weakness in an arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • confusion, trouble speaking, or understanding speech
  • trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • severe headache with no known cause

For some people, symptoms are recognized when they awake in the morning. It is important to seek medical attention at the time the symptoms are recognized to determine which type of stroke may be occurring to initiate the appropriate treatment.

Risk factors: It also is important to know your risk factors for stroke to prevent an initial stroke or a recurrent one.  Most Americans have at least one risk factor. Risk factors that cannot be changed include age, race, prior stroke, gender, and family history. Risk factors that can be changed or controlled include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, irregular heart rhythm, smoking, physical inactivity, and nutrition. Speak with your health care provider about your risk for stroke and establish a plan to live a healthy lifestyle, and reduce your risk for having a stroke.

Since 2005, Saint Anne’s Hospital has been designated as a Primary Stroke Service Provider by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. This distinction means that the hospital ensures emergency diagnostic and therapeutic services by a multidisciplinary team, 24 hours day, seven days a week, to patients presenting with signs of acute stroke.

For more information about stroke, visit