Managing stroke risk factors

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(CBS News) – Thursday is World Stroke Day, a day to raise awareness for a leading cause of death and disability around the world. About 800,000 people have strokes in the U.S. every year, according to the American Heart Association, but many can be prevented.

While stroke is more common in older people, rates are increasing in younger adults. Dr. Mitchell Elkind, president of the American Heart Association, says we don’t fully understand why. “It may reflect changes in behavior, like different diet and lack of exercise, a sedentary lifestyle, increases in obesity, and diabetes that can lead to vascular disease and stroke. So we need to figure out why it’s happening and prevent it,” says Dr. Elkind.

Managing those risk factors is key. Controlling high blood pressure is one of the most important things to reduce risk and knowing the warning signs.

To remember those warning signs, the American Heart Association says think “FAST”:

  • Face drooping
  • Arm weakness
  • Speech difficulty
  • Time to call 911

“We do have treatments for people who are having strokes, but they need to be given as quickly as possible. And the longer people wait, the more brain damage they will suffer after a stroke,” says Dr. Elkind.

42-year-old Kelly Fucheck tells her story because as she says, “People don’t realize that it can happen to you.” She woke up one morning and noticed issues with her balance. She also had vision problems and neck pain. She was having a stroke at just 32. “I waited two days before I sought any medical attention, which is just ridiculous. And even, every time I talk about it, I get kind of, you know, emotional just because I could not be here now,” she says.

After her stroke, Kelly stopped smoking, lost more than 50 pounds, and started eating right and exercising. “It was very difficult to recover from in the emotional aspect, as well as the physical, but I was very blessed with being able to do some rehab and really I have no deficits,” she says. She’s also teaching her children to live a healthy life.

Many of the risk factors for stroke such as uncontrolled high blood pressure, smoking, and obesity also increase the risk of severe illness from COVID-19, so it’s critical to manage those risks.

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