Know the risks, signs of a stroke.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds. A stroke can happen in one of two ways: a blood clot blocks blood flow to the brain, which is the most common form of stroke, or a blood vessel bursts in the brain and causes blood to build up. In both cases, brain tissue stops receiving the necessary oxygen and begins to be damaged.

May is National Stroke Awareness month, and to spread awareness of ways you can lower your risk, here are some must-know facts.

Advanced age is a risk factor, but strokes happen at any age.

One of the most common misconceptions is that strokes only happen to the elderly. That’s not the case. Age is a risk factor, but strokes can – and do – happen at any age. In 2009, 34 percent of people hospitalized for stroke were 65 or below, according to the CDC. So, even younger people can suffer a stroke.

High blood pressure is a leading cause of stroke.

Luckily, high blood pressure can be lowered with proper medication and lifestyle changes. A heart-healthy diet low in sodium, trans fats and calories is the best place to start. Some practical tips are:

Work fish into your diet at least twice per week. Eat fish high in Omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, trout and herring.

Make fiber the main event of your meals. Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa and lentils are great for lowering your blood pressure.

Lower your fat intake. Avoid cheese and high fat dairy products.

Smoking and drinking alcohol are both risk factors.

The risk of stroke is 2.5 times higher for smokers than those who have never smoked. Additionally, drinking too much alcohol on a regular basis can increase your risk of stroke. The CDC recommends that men should have no more than two alcoholic drinks per day, and women should only have one. So, overall, kicking your smoking and drinking habits may be the best thing you can do for your health.

Physical inactivity can contribute to your risk of stroke.

Physical inactivity has many negative health implications, including worsening other risk factors for stroke, like high blood pressure. Get regular physical activity. Increasing your heart rate for 2 hours and 30 minutes per week helps lower your cholesterol and blood pressure levels.

Know the warning signs.

A stroke can happen anytime and anywhere, with little warning. For that reason, it can be hard to tell if someone is having a stroke. Use the acronym FAST to remind yourself of the warning signs and appropriate actions when you suspect someone is having a stroke.

Face drooping or numbness.

Arm weakness or involuntary drifting

Speech difficulty (slurred speech in particular)

Time to call 9-1-1. Even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1.

In some cases, it only becomes obvious that someone has suffered a stroke after the fact. Symptoms can be wide and varied, but most often include: visual problems in one or both eyes; sudden numbness in the face, arm, leg or one side of the body; and sudden confusion or communication issues such as trouble speaking or garbled speech. Changes in motor skills and the sudden feeling of dizziness, loss of balance, vertigo or lack of coordination can also be signs that someone has had a stroke. If you notice these symptoms in a loved one and suspect that they have had a stroke, call 911.

Visit QualChoice.com for more health and fitness tips.

All source information courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Stroke Association.

All source information courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Stroke Association.

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