May is American Stroke Month. It’s on the calendar every year, and for good reason. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S. with 133,000 people dying annually. In fact, every 40 seconds, someone in the US has a stroke.

In a Q&A with Justin A. Sattin, Associate Professor and Residency Program Director in the Department of Neurology and Medical Director of the UWHealth Comprehensive Stroke Program at University of Wisconsin – Madison, he answered the following questions–What are the signs that someone might be having a stroke? What actions should be taken after calling for help?:

Signs of stroke can be remembered with the acronym BE FAST:

  • Balance: Sudden loss of balance;
  • Eyes: Sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes;
  • Face: Ask them to smile — does the face look uneven?
  • Arms: Ask them to lift their arms — does one arm drift down?
  • Speech: Ask them to repeat a phrase — does their speech sound strange?
  • Time: Time is brain — time to call 911!

After calling 911, the most important things are:

  • Mark the time that it started or, if known, when the person was last seen in their usual state of health. All stroke treatments depend on the time of onset or last known well.
  • Don’t give the victim anything to eat or drink — including no aspirin (as with a heart attack). The victim might inhale the food / drink / medicine and choke or get pneumonia.
  • For family members, it’s helpful to gather the victim’s medications and any documentation of their medical problems for EMS to bring to the hospital.

Stroke prevention starts with good living: A healthful diet, regular exercise, and not smoking. The most important treatable risk factor for stroke is high blood pressure (hypertension). Seeing the doctor from time to time for a blood pressure check and taking blood pressure medications when prescribed is extremely important. If a person has diabetes or dyslipidemia (high cholesterol), keeping these under control is also extremely important.

The number of strokes is rising because the biggest risk factor is age — we have an aging population here in the U.S. However, the proportion of people who have a stroke that die from it is actually going down. They’re surviving the stroke, but too often with disabilities such as paralysis on one side of the body, inability to speak, inability to eat, inability to walk, etc. That’s why preventing stroke in the first place is so important and why one must call 911 right away if stroke symptoms do develop. Again, time is brain; all stroke treatments are critically time dependent and the longer people wait to get help, the more likely they are to end up disabled after a stroke. Large numbers of stroke survivors with lifelong disability are a huge strain on patients, families and society.

Check out the WalletHub infographic on stroke below: