Stroke is the nation’s leading killer and the leading cause of long-term disability. More than 750,000 Americans will suffer a stroke this year.

In treating a stroke, every minute counts. New treatments are available that greatly reduce the damage caused by one but you need to arrive at the hospital as soon as possible after symptoms start.

Many people don’t know the symptoms of stroke or what to do when they see someone having one. Knowing the symptoms of a stroke and getting to the hospital quickly can help you act in time to save yourself or someone you know from serious long-term disability.

A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted. Brain cells die when they’re deprived of the oxygen and nutrients provided by blood. Because stroke injures the brain, if you’re having a stroke, you may not realize what is happening. But to a bystander, the signs of a stroke are distinct.

• Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg (especially on one side of the body).

• Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech.

• Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.

• Sudden trouble walking, dizziness or loss of balance or coordination.

• Sudden severe headache with no known cause.

If you see someone with these symptoms, get help immediately.

Making changes in your lifestyle can help prevent stroke. Factors that increase your risk of having a stroke include high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, physical activity and being overweight.

Talk to you doctor to find out your risks and take action now to prevent stroke.

Gail Gilman, Family Life Consultant, M.Ed., C.F.C.S. and Professor Emeritus – University of Minnesota at waldn001@umn.edu.

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