Working for Your Health: Stroke prevention

May is National Stroke Prevention Month; knowing the signs may save your life.


May is a time when the weather typically brightens, and many of us are getting back in our yards, firing up our grills, and looking forward to the long days of summer. The last thing we want to think about is the possibility of having a stroke. But taking a few minutes to learn about its symptoms and potential causes may save your life one day.

Globally, one in four people will end up suffering a stroke. It occurs when oxygenated blood does not reach areas in the brain needed to keep the cells alive. The two most common forms of stroke are transient ischemic stroke (often called a TIA, or mini-stroke) and ischemic stroke. The symptoms of a TIA usually last for a brief period and go away. They are caused by something temporarily blocking blood flow to the brain, and are a warning sign that a larger stroke may follow if symptoms are not addressed. An ischemic stroke occurs when blood flow is more solidly blocked. It is often caused by atherosclerosis, which are fatty deposits on the blood vessel walls that constrict the passage of blood, or have broken apart to form clots. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures, spilling blood into the surrounding tissue.

Not all strokes present with the same symptoms, but there are a few which are seen frequently among patients. To remember them, it may help to think of the acronym B.E.F.A.S.T., meaning Balance, Eyes, Face, Arms, Speech, and Time.

Balance: A stroke victim’s equilibrium is frequently impacted — the extent of which is dependent upon the location of the stroke and the degree of damage it causes.

Eyes: Strokes can damage specific areas of the brain responsible for processing visual information. This can manifest in blind spots and reduced vision. Some patients describe a visual aura of flashing lights, or lines in their field of vision.

Face: Strokes can damage the nerves which control facial expression. Someone experiencing a stroke may have a visible droop on one side.

Arms: Depending on where in the brain the stroke occurs, and its severity, a victim may experience weakness or paralysis of the muscles in the arms. Patients frequently have difficulty lifting their arms, and may also experience overall body weakness.

Speech: Stroke can damage speech centers in the brain and weaken facial muscles, leading to difficulty in coordinating movement of the tongue, lips, and throat. Slurred speech is common among stroke patients.

Time: Call 911. Time is of the essence when symptoms present themselves, and a prompt response is needed to stop the progression of damage. Clot-busting drugs, known as thrombolytics, and clot-removing procedures should be started within a few hours of the onset of symptoms to improve a patient’s chances of the best possible outcome. Alteplase (t-PA) is a common thrombolytic. In one study, 50 percent of those who were administered t-PA within a few hours of the onset of symptoms were able to live their lives without significant problems.

When the initial symptoms of a stroke occur, the victim may be unaware they are experiencing a health emergency. Many people continue working, or going about their day. Sometimes it is an astute friend, family member, or colleague who first detects something is wrong, and suggests they receive medical help. By knowing the warning signs, we may be able to help one another in times of crisis, and perhaps identify them in ourselves.

Stroke caused 162,890 deaths in the U.S. in 2021, according to the American Heart Association. It can afflict both the young and old, although the risk increases the older we get. The good news is, there are ways to minimize our chances by addressing underlying health issues. High blood pressure, atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat), diabetes, obesity, hyperlipidemia (high fat levels in the blood), and sickle cell disease, when untreated, can all lead to stroke. Eating to optimize health, limiting alcohol consumption, quitting smoking, and losing weight can improve our odds.

Never hesitate to call 911 if you or someone you are with presents with strokelike symptoms, even if you are unsure that medical attention is needed. An EMT would much rather respond to a false alarm than to learn someone became disabled because they did not want to inconvenience first responders. As the warm weather arrives and our minds drift to pleasant times outdoors, please remember the significance of BE FAST. It may save your life, or the life of someone you love.

For more information on thrombolytics, go to