Are you at risk of stroke? You may be surprised to know that stroke is more common and more serious than many people think. In the United States someone will suffer a stroke every 40 seconds, and someone will die from a stroke every four minutes.

Stroke is a leading cause of death in the United States and a leading cause of serious, long-term disability. Yet many people know little about the risk factors for stroke, how to recognize when a stroke occurs, or how to respond in the event of stroke.

As a reminder during National Stroke Awareness Month, I’d like to take this opportunity to share some little known facts and important information that just may save your life:

  • Every year, stroke kills twice as many women as breast cancer.
  • African Americans have almost twice the risk of stroke than whites.
  • Stroke can happen to anyone at any time, regardless of sex, race or age.
  • Stroke is an emergency. Approximately two million brain cells die every minute during stroke, so it is important to learn stroke warning signs and how to respond to them. If you suspect someone is suffering a stroke, use the “FAST” test:
  • F – Face. Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop

    A – Arms. Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

    S – Speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?

    T – Time. If you observe any of these signs, immediately call 9-1-1.

  • You are at greater risk of stroke if you are over age 55, male, African American, have diabetes or have a family history of stroke. If you fall into one or more of those categories, work with your primary care physician to make lifestyle and medical changes to help prevent stroke.
  • The good news is that stroke is largely preventable through risk factor management. Follow these guidelines to help decrease your risk of stroke:

Obesity – Excess weight strains the circulatory system. Control your weight by watching what and how much you eat and exercising regularly.

Tobacco Use and Smoking – Smoking doubles the risk of stroke. If you smoke, stop.

Alcohol Consumption – Limit your alcohol intake to no more than two drinks each day.

High Blood Pressure – Have your blood pressure checked at least once a year.

Atrial Fibrillation (Afib) – This is an abnormal heartbeat that increases stroke risk by 500 percent. See your doctor if you believe your heartbeat is irregular.

High Cholesterol – High cholesterol levels can clog arteries and cause a stroke. See a doctor if your cholesterol is more than 200.

Diabetes – Health problems associated with diabetes increase stroke risk. Follow your doctor’s recommendations for nutrition, lifestyle and medication to control your diabetes.

To assess your risk of stroke and learn how to reduce your vascular risk, complete our Vascular Risk Assessment scorecard (200k PDF) and discuss the results with your primary care physician.