Odds are you know someone who’s suffered a stroke.
Some leave obvious physical effects. One side — of the face, or more of the body — may droop without muscle function. Perhaps speech slurs.
Other strokes aren’t evident at a glance. Memory — short-term, long-term or both — is noticeably faulty or unreliable. Mental acuity may be limited, a little, or a lot. These are only a few of many possible effects, ranging from mildly limiting physical function to radically transforming a life. At worst, strokes can turn a sharp, active person into a dependent child. They can also be fatal.
That’s strong incentive to take care of yourself. May is Stroke (and high blood pressure) Awareness Month. Stroke symptoms vary by person, but know these basics — even one can indicate a stroke:
• Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg — especially on one side of the body
• Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
• Sudden difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
• Sudden trouble walking; dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
• Sudden severe headache with no known cause
For women, sudden limb pain, nausea, weakness, shortness of breath, or chest pain may also occur.
Symptoms and damage tend to happen quickly. If in doubt, try the tests below, but act fast. Delaying a trip to the ER by mere minutes can drastically alter the extent of permanent damage and life changes.
Remember the F-A-S-T test:
Face. Ask for a smile. Does one side of the face drop?
Arms. Tell him to raise both arms. Does one drift downward?
Speech. Ask her to repeat a short phrase. Is speech slurred or strange when the phrase is repeated? When my mother’s stroke first came on, she said she felt dizzy and she sounded drunk. She was not a drinker.
Time. If any one of these answers is “yes,” call 9-1-1 immediately.
Risk factors for both genders include family history, high blood pressure or cholesterol, smoking, alcohol, diabetes, circulation, being overweight, and lack of exercise. Women who suffer migraines, especially migraines with aura as recent research suggests, are at far greater risk. Men, people with family history, and those over 55 have higher risk, but strokes can happen to both genders at any age.
There is good news: Up to 80 percent of strokes are preventable.
When they affect mental function (and they often do), strokes can suck a life dry; what remains may be light-years from the life envisioned. It’s a big motivator. How to prevent them? Watch the scale and diet more carefully, keep blood pressure down with breathing exercises and meditation, and vigorously exercise at least 30 minutes four or five times weekly.
Each day is a gift; make the most of it. For more information see Stroke.org.
Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at Sholeh@cdapress.com.