A stroke occurs when a blood vessel is either blocked by a clot or bursts — preventing oxygen and nutrients from reaching part of the brain. Cells begin to die and functions controlled by this part of the brain are lost. A stroke can affect your memory and emotions as well as your ability to walk, talk and/or understand.
African Americans are at particularly high risk for heart disease and stroke: almost twice the risk of first-time strokes and higher death rates compared to whites.
May is American Stroke Month and the American Heart Association wants you to be aware of the risks and warning signs of stroke.
Know your risk
Traits or behaviors that increase your risk for heart disease and stroke are called risk factors. Know your risk factors by knowing your numbers, such as your cholesterol and blood pressure. Also, several factors increase your risk for heart disease and stroke. You can’t change some, such as family history, age and gender, but some risk factors can be changed or treated. The six major changeable risk factors are:
- Smoking: Smoking cigarettes put you at much greater risk for having a stroke.
- High cholesterol: A high level of total cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease, which raises your risk of stroke.
- High blood pressure: The prevalence of high blood pressure in African Americans in the U.S. is the highest in the world.
- Diabetes: About 2.7 million African Americans, or more than 11 percent, have diabetes.
- Physical activity: Regular exercise helps reduce your risk of heart attack, heart disease and stroke.
- Overweight: Being inactive or obese can increase your risk of high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Know your warning signs
In the past, doctors couldn’t do much to help stroke victims. Now, stroke doesn’t have to lead to disability or death. The key is to recognize a stroke and to call 911 immediately. Know these warning signs of stroke and teach them to others.
- Numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Trouble speaking or understanding
- Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Difficulty walking
- Loss of balance or coordination
- Severe headache with no known cause
For more information about strokes, visit www.heart.org.