How knowing an acronym and understanding your risk score for stroke could save your life

How knowing an acronym and understanding your risk score for stroke could save your life


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May is Stroke Awareness Month, and neurologists at Intermountain Health want you to know that most strokes may be prevented.

1 in 20 adult deaths are due to strokes, making stroke the fifth leading cause of death in the United States.

Stroke is a term that physicians use when a part of the brain is damaged because of a problem with blood flow.

Strokes can happen when an artery to the brain gets clogged or closes off, and part of the brain goes without blood for too long. This accounts for approximately 85% of strokes. They can also happen when an artery breaks open and starts bleeding into or around the brain

The effects of a stroke depend on several factors including which part of the brain is affected and how quickly the stroke is treated.

"Stroke symptoms range from minor with no significant lasting effects to causing significant disability or death, Dr. Paul Johnson, stroke neurologist and medical director of the comprehensive stroke program at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray said. "For example, some people become partly paralyzed or are unable to speak. The most common stroke symptoms are sudden weakness in the face or arms and/or inability to speak, but strokes can cause many other symptoms as well."

Risks for stroke can be partially genetics (related to family history), but many risk factors are controllable through awareness and lifestyle changes. Nearly 80% of strokes in America are preventable. It's important for each individual to know their risk factors, according to Johnson.

"Most strokes are caused by treatable risk factors and are preventable. The main stroke risk factors are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, poor diet, lack of physical activity and cigarette use. Another common cause of stroke is untreated atrial fibrillation," Johnson said.

Healthier lifestyle choices, such as regular exercise and a healthy diet could prevent 75% of strokes doctors say.

A healthy diet, specifically the Mediterranean diet, with very few fried foods, sweets, or red meat, and with more chicken, fish, vegetables, nuts and fruits, has been found to reduce the risk of stroke. Limiting salt can also lower your blood pressure.

Physical activity protects the heart and brain and reduces the risk of stroke, heart disease and dementia. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week.

How knowing an acronym and understanding your risk score for stroke could save your life
Photo: Kmpzzz/

Quick medical treatment during a stroke is one of the most important factors in determining a good outcome. If a stroke does occur, there are treatments available to prevent long-term brain injury but are very time-sensitive.

A simple way to remember the signs of stroke is to BE FAST:

  • Balance: Sudden difficulty with balance or coordination
  • Eyes: Sudden blurred or double vision, or loss of vision in one or both eyes without pain
  • Face: Drooping or numbness on one side of the face.
  • Arm Weakness: Sudden weakness or numbness in one arm.
  • Speech: Sudden difficulty, slurring, or inability to speak.
  • Time: know when the last time you or your loved one had normal symptoms. Call 911.

Stroke treatments are focused on restoring blood flow to the brain to prevent brain tissue from dying due to lack of blood flow. Treatments include a blood clot-dissolving medication called tPA and a procedure that uses a catheter to pull blood clots out of large arteries in the brain. Both treatments can significantly reduce disability but are very time-sensitive.

The Intermountain Health team of specialists continues to develop protocols that shorten the time it takes to diagnose and treat a stroke. This is important because a quick diagnosis and treatment can mean less long-term damage, less disability, and better overall outcomes.

Scheduling an appointment with a primary care provider will help to discuss a plan to minimize potential risks.

For more information about stroke awareness, symptoms, prevention, and treatment go here.

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