Just about everyone knows someone that has had a stroke or has heard about stroke. Do you know that the chance of dying from a stroke is on the decline? From 2001 to 2011, the actual number of stroke deaths declined by 21.2 percent. The chances of someone having a second stroke within a year also fell by almost 5 percent from 1994 to 2002. Compared to just five years ago, stroke has fallen to No. 5 among the leading causes of death, behind heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases and accidents.
What drives this reduced stroke mortality? Many experts cite two main factors:
- Identification and control of stroke risk factors. We understand stroke risk factors and are doing things to control their impact. For example, Americans who use tobacco has declined from 24 percent in 1998 to just under 17 percent in 2014. The war on high blood pressure started in the 1970s, and we better identify and control diabetes and high cholesterol now. All of these advances have played important roles in preventing strokes from occurring.
- Advanced technology and treatment. Twenty-five years ago, we had no single effective treatment for people who just had a stroke, except for rehabilitation. Now, we have treatments such as clot-busting medications and the capability to use a guided wire to snag blood clots away from blood vessels, restoring immediate blood flow to brain tissues in some patients. These advances help people survive a stroke with fewer complications.
Each year, about 795,000 Americans still experience a new or recurrent stroke. In 2005, only 43 percent of Americans knew the warning symptoms of stroke and, and while the number improved to about 51 percent in 2009, it still is unacceptably low.
So, given all of the above statistics on stroke, I think it is fair to grade our efforts on stroke care as a B, maybe B+. We still have too many strokes occurring among us, and stroke remains the leading cause of long-term disability in our country. We can do better.
You may then ask, “What can I do to help fight stroke?” This is the easy part. Know the warning symptoms of stroke (below) and immediately call 911 if you or someone you observe is having a stroke. Know your personal risk factors for stroke and do something about them.
We can conquer stroke, but each of us needs to do our part.
F.A.S.T. is an easy way to remember the sudden signs of stroke.
- Face drooping — Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the smile uneven?
- Arm weakness — Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
- Speech difficulty — Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? As the person to repeat a simple sentence, such as “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?
- Time to call 911 — If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 911 and get to the hospital immediately. Check the time so you’ll know when the first symptoms appeared.