Group notes warning signs of stroke

The American Stroke Association wants you to know the signs of stroke so you can call 9-1-1 immediately if you or someone is around you is one of the about 795,000 Americans who suffers a stroke each year.

Stroke is a type of cardiovascular disease that occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts. When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood that it needs to function.

The signs of a stroke are:

Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg-especially on one side of the body.

Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.

Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.

Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance.

Sudden, severe headache with no known cause.

If someone has one or more of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately. Time is of the essence when it comes to a stroke. If a clot-busting drug called tissue plasminogen activator is given soon enough, it can reduce long-term disability for the most common type of stroke.

The American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association, said a stroke occurs every 40 seconds on average. About 610,000 of these are first or new strokes. An estimated 185,000 who survive a stroke have another in their lifetime.

The group notes that federal statistics show— for the first time in 50 years—stroke has dropped from the third to the fourth leading cause of U.S. deaths.

However, stroke still claims an estimated 130,000 Americans each year and remains a leading cause of long term disability. The Association urges everyone to participate this May in American Stroke Awareness Month by learning warning signs and ways to prevent this disease.

It notes some stroke risk factors are hereditary or are part of natural processes, including a prior stroke or heart attack, age, family history, gender or race. African Americans have almost twice the risk of experiencing a first-ever stroke compared to caucasians.

Other risk factors can be changed or controlled, such as high blood pressure, smoking, high blood cholesterol, poor diet and physical inactivity.

To lessen your risk for stroke, the Association recommends:

¿ Eat a healthy diet. Eat a variety of nutritious foods from all food groups. Choose foods like lean meats, fish and poultry without skin, vegetables, fruits, whole-grain products and fat-free or low-fat dairy products. Cut back on foods and beverages high in cholesterol, salt and added sugars.

¿ Know your blood pressure. Those with normal blood pressure have about half the risk of stroke as those with high blood pressure.

¿ Exercise every day. Walk or do other forms of physical activity for at least 30 minutes on most or all days. Check with your doctor before beginning.

¿ Stop smoking. Nonsmokers have about half the risk of stroke as people who smoke cigarettes.

¿ Avoid excessive alcohol consumption. An average of more than one alcoholic drink a day for women or more than two drinks a day for men raises blood pressure and can lead to a stroke.

¿ Stop any illegal drug use. Intravenous drug abuse carries a high risk of stroke. Cocaine use has also been linked to strokes and heart attacks, some fatal even in first-time users.

On the net: www.strokeassociation.org.