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Time to Take a Second Look at Stroke

Stroke

May is American Stroke Month. You may feel like you get bombarded with messages about stroke, yet it is an issue we all should learn more about.

Here are a few reasons to take some time this month to think about stroke.

Stroke can affect anyone. As a society, we’re used to thinking that the people who experience serious health issues—like stroke, heart attack

and most cancers—are retirement-age or older. As a result, if you’re in your 20s, 30s or 40s (and sometimes even 50s), you may tend to think

that you’re immune from those conditions. While it’s true that the majority of people with serious medical issues are older, the reality is that

even a health issue like stroke can affect anyone of any age, race or gender.

Not long ago, I had a patient at Simi Valley Hospital who was much younger than most people would ever think would be at risk for stroke. But

the evidence was irrefutable. Thankfully, the patient got care right away, before any particularly devastating damage occurred.

I don’t tell this story to frighten anyone. Chance are, you’ll never have this experience. But what’s important to learn is that you or someone

you care about could have a stroke, so you should never, ever discount any stroke-like symptoms you encounter. Which leads to my next point …

Knowing how to spot a stroke in progress could save your life or the life of someone else. Although there are several warning signs that a

person may be having a stroke, the American Stroke Association has created a memory device using the acronym FAST that encompasses the three

most common symptoms:

“F”—Face drooping. Is one side of the face drooping or does it feel numb? Ask the person to smile, and the drooping will become evident.

“A”—Arm weakness. Does one arm feel weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Look to see if one spontaneously drifts back down.

“S”—Speech difficulty. Is the person’s speech slurred, or is the person difficult to understand? Ask him or her to repeat a simple sentence such

as “The sky is blue.”

“T”—Time to call for medical assistance. If one of these symptoms, or a combination of them, is present, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Stroke symptoms can be subtle. Most of us have a particular concept of what stroke looks like that may not always be the case. We tend to think

of stroke being a dramatic event, like the entire side of the body goes numb or the person falls to the floor.

The reality is that stroke may manifest itself in much more subtle ways. You may experience blurriness or “darkening” in one eye, like someone

has pulled a curtain across half of your face. You may have numbness in only one arm or leg. You may find yourself unexplainably confused. A

sudden change in any part of the body your brain controls—such as balance, vision or arm movement—may be an indication of stroke or of health

issues that could lead to stroke. It’s very important not to ignore any warning signs, including the subtle ones.

Prevention should be your goal. It’s always better to catch a stroke early—but even better to identify issues that may lead to a future stroke

and address them. The most survivable stroke is the one that never happens because you get your controllable risk factors in line with lifestyle

changes, medications and other preventative measures.

It’s not something we want to think about, but those fast food meals we eat this year, those exercise opportunities we take a pass on, those

cigarettes we smoke—all of our behaviors that contribute to controllable stroke risks—have a “downstream effect.” They may not cause a stroke

today or next week or even next year, but their effects accumulate year after year and put us at increasingly greater risk as we age.

The good news is that you can do something—starting today—to decrease your risk of having a stroke. Talk with your doctor about your stroke

risks and the steps you can take to prevent yourself from ever experiencing a stroke.

Jeffrey Mora, MD, is a neurologist in the office of Patient Focused Neurology in Simi Valley.