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May is National Stroke Awareness Month.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month.

With May being National Stroke Awareness Month, there's no better time than now to break down some of the telltale signs and symptoms of a stroke. Being able to identify a stroke as it occurs — or better yet, take steps to prevent one in the first place — can end up saving a life. 

"Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, and a leading cause of disability. Stroke can happen to anyone at any age," said Dr. Jose Biller, chair of Loyola University's neurology department, noting that the onset of a stroke signals brain cell death. "Time is brain. Prompt treatment potentially can reduce stroke damage significantly."

There are a number of lifestyle factors that can increase your risk of having a stroke. These include:

  • Certain heart conditions
  • Diabetes
  • Drinking
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Transient ischemic attacks (aka "mini-strokes").

But stroke awareness is about more than just curbing risk factors ahead of time. Knowing what a stroke looks like and being able to identify one quickly can be a matter of life and death. If you feel that you or a loved one may be suffering from a stroke, keep FAST in mind:

  • Face: Does a smile droop down to one side of the face?
  • Arms: If you lift both arms, does one of them begin to drift down?
  • Speech: Does speaking a simple phrase come out as slurred or mixed up?
  • Time: If you've noticed any of these red flags, call 911 immediately.

The after-effects of a stroke can vary from person to person and depends on which side of the brain was affected, but generally tend to include some of form of paralysis, loss of memory support and inhibited vision or speech. 

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