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May is National Stroke Awareness Month

A woman holding her head.

Strokes can affect people of all ages and backgrounds. Learn how to safeguard yourself against stroke.


Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke. In 2008 alone, more than 133,000 Americans died from stroke—or one person every four minutes—died from stroke, making it the fourth leading cause of death in the United States.

A stroke, sometimes called a brain attack, occurs when a blockage stops the flow of blood to the brain or when a blood vessel in or around the brain bursts. Although many people think of stroke as a condition that affects only older adults, strokes can and do occur in people of all ages. In fact, nearly a quarter of all strokes occur in people younger than age 65.

Each year, almost 800,000 strokes occur in the United States. Strokes often lead to serious, life-changing complications that include

  • Paralysis or weakness on one side of the body.
  • Problems with thinking, awareness, attention, learning, judgment, and memory.
  • Problems understanding or forming speech.
  • Difficulty controlling or expressing emotions.
  • Numbness or strange sensations.
  • Pain in the hands and feet.
  • Depression.

To help protect yourself and your loved ones, learn what steps you can take to prevent a stroke and how to spot a stroke if one occurs.


Lowering Your Risk for Stroke

Demographic factors such as family history, age, sex, and race/ethnicity can all play a role in an individual’s stroke risk. Regardless of your background, however, there are several things you can do to lower your chances of having a stroke.

For example, cigarette smoking contributes to one in every five strokes in the United States. Smoking—and even exposure to second-hand smoke—can thicken the blood and make it more likely to clot. Thicker blood flow can lead to increased plaque buildup in your arteries and damage to the blood vessels leading to the brain, which can cause or worsen a stroke. So, quit smoking—or better yet, don’t start.

In 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services launched the Million Hearts™ initiative to prevent a million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. A primary focus is on the ABCS to prevent cardiovascular disease, including stroke, and contribute to overall health:

  • Know your ABCS of health:
    • Appropriate Aspirin therapy: Ask your doctor if taking aspirin is right for you.
    • Blood pressure control: Keeping your blood pressure under control reduces your risk of heart attack and stroke. More than half of the world’s stroke deaths are caused by elevated blood pressure levels.
    • Cholesterol management: Get your cholesterol checked regularly and manage it with diet and physical activity or with medication, if needed.
    • Smoking cessation: Get help at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat a healthy diet that’s low in sodium.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Prevent or control diabetes.
  • Limit your alcohol intake (fewer than two drinks per day for men, or one drink per day for women).

Recognizing the Signs of Stroke

When responding to a stroke, every minute counts. The sooner a patient receives medical treatment, the lower the risk for death or disability. If you or someone you know exhibits the following signs or symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately.

  • Numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body.
  • Confusion, trouble speaking, or difficulty understanding.
  • Trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance and coordination.
  • Severe headache with no known cause.

Remember, getting immediate medical attention for stroke is crucial to preventing disability and death, so don’t delay—dial 9-1-1.

To learn more about reducing your risk for stroke, visit Million Hearts™ , a national initiative to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes over 5 years.


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