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MADISON, Wis. - May is American Stroke Month, meant to raise awareness of the prevalence and seriousness of strokes.
Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in Wisconsin, and someone in the U.S. has a stroke every 40 seconds, accounting for one in 19 deaths nationwide. Strokes are also among the leading causes of long-term disability.
The American Heart Association highlights using the acronym FAST for stroke symptoms and response - F for facial drooping, A for arm weakness, S for slurred speech and T for time, meaning time is of the essence when treating a stroke.
Sarah Badalamenti, a neuroscience clinical nurse specialist at HSHS St. Vincent Hospital in Green Bay, points out these common symptoms. "Issues with balance, issues with vision so that there is difficulty seeing in one or both eyes," she says. "Could be confusion and it could even be, if it's a large enough stroke, somebody is just unconscious."
Badalamenti stresses the biggest risk factor for stroke is high blood pressure, which many people are unaware they even have. She notes that last year, the threshold for high blood pressure was changed from 140 over 80 to 130 over 80 - meaning more people now have what's considered high blood pressure than ever before. Diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity and smoking also increase a person's risk of stroke, but Badalamenti says controlling these risk factors is possible - and can save your life. "About 80 percent of strokes are preventable if they're treated," she states. "So, being aware of what those risk factors are for you, as an individual, is really important."
Badalamenti adds during a stroke, about 2 million brain cells can die every minute, which is why time is of the essence for getting treatment. She says if you suspect someone is having a stroke, it's best to call 911 immediately.