What should you do if someone has the abrupt onset of slurred or unintelligible speech, weakness on one side, is unable to walk straight or loses the ability to communicate? Answer: Call 911.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month. This is the fifth leading cause of death in America (130,000 deaths yearly) and a leading cause of permanent disability among adults. The effects can be devastating, but many of the risk factors can be controlled to decrease an individual's risk of stroke. If a stroke does occur, prompt response may be able to lessen its effects.

In the simplest terms, there are two kinds of stroke, the most common is the kind where a blood clot cuts off blood flow to an area of the brain, the second type involves bleeding into the brain tissue usually from poorly controlled blood pressure.

By far the best plan to reduce the death and disability caused by strokes is to avoid them. Some risk factors are beyond our control like: family history, age, ethnicity and gender. Many others can be controlled including: smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, atrial fibrillation (irregular heart beat) and obesity.

So what can we individually do to try to prevent strokes from occurring in the first place?

  • Stop smoking or never start. This is the number one preventable cause of death and disability in America because it plays a major role in so many different diseases (cancer, heart disease as well as stroke). Smoking increases a person's risk of stroke 200-400 percent.
  • Get exercising. If you are in good health, you should have 40 minutes of cardiovascular exercise 3-4 times per week. If you are unsure whether you are fit enough to exercise, discuss this with your doctor and begin at a level appropriate for you.
  • Watch your diet. Make sure that you are getting both the right kinds and right proportions of food. Rather than eating until you are full, try stopping when you are no longer hungry. Just like filling your car with gas, avoid “topping off”.
  • Know your numbers. Control your blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes. Know your target objectives and work with your doctor to stay well within them.
  • If you drink alcohol, do so moderately. There is a correlation between alcohol use and stroke, men should not have more than two drinks per day and women should stop with one.
  • Know your family history and discuss it with your doctor to ensure the proper screening is done to identify these conditions early and start appropriate treatment.

If you suspect someone has had a stroke, call 911 and get to the nearest emergency department. A quick screening test can be administered using the acronym F.A.S.T:

  • Face: Ask them to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • Arms: Ask them to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech: Ask them to repeat a simple phrase. Does the speech sound slurred or strange?
  • Time: If yes to any of these, it's time to call 9-1-1.

This May, make sure you're doing what you can to release your stroke risk: quit smoking, eat a well-balanced diet, exercise regularly and make an appointment with your doctor to monitor your risk factors.

  • Dr. Brandon Wilding is a board-certified emergency physician practicing at West Valley Medical Center in Caldwell. To make an appointment with a West Valley provider, call 455-3981 or visit westvalleyisbetter.com.

Free Stroke Seminar

Stroke is a leading cause of death and long-term disability in the United States. Join Dr. Brandon Wilding, a fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians, for an interactive discussion at 5:30pm, Thursday, May 28, on common myths about stroke, using F.A.S.T. to recognize symptoms and taking proactive steps to reduce your risk.