May 19, 2008
May is National Stroke Awareness Month
“About 700 Mainers die from stroke every year, and thousands of Mainers are stroke survivors, living with long-term disabilities caused by stroke,” said Dr. Dora Anne Mills, Director of the Maine CDC. “However, most people in Maine are unaware that stroke is the third leading cause of death, and a leading cause of disability. National Stroke Awareness Month was created to raise awareness about prevention of stroke and the importance of knowing the signs of stroke and calling 911 if witnessing any of the signs.”
The Maine CDC says that stroke can be caused either by a clot blocking the flow of blood to the brain or by a blood vessel bursting and preventing blood flow to the brain. The longer blood and oxygen flow are decreased to the brain, the greater the chance for serious damage, and the chances of survival and recovery also decrease.
Stroke can impact people of all ages. Shawn Withers is a stroke survivor from Scarborough, Maine. At just 20 years old, life should have been carefree, with countless possibilities and all the time in the world to explore them. Withers recalls the day of his stroke, “Suddenly, what started out as a great day to spend time with friends became a nightmare that I couldn’t wrap my mind around.”
Now in his 40s, Withers often shares how his stroke has altered the path of his life forever and how he has chosen to turn his own challenges into opportunities for himself and for others.
Withers is Chief Instructor, and co-owner with his wife Andrea, of ‘Natural Motion Martial Arts’, and holds a 3rd degree Black Belt in Broken Wing Kenpo, and a 2nd degree Black Belt in Shaolin Kenpo. His experience and extensive work with disabled students make him a pioneer in the field of teaching martial arts to the physically challenged. “In sharing my experiences I hope that others will understand they are not alone.”
Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke, and someone dies of a stroke every three to four minutes. The estimated cost of stroke for 2008 is $65.5 billion in the United States.
“The biggest risk factor for stroke is high blood pressure. Keeping your blood pressure low (120/80 or lower) by eating a healthy diet, being physically active, and taking medication if prescribed for you are all important,” said Dr. Mills. “Most strokes can be prevented by managing certain risk factors.”
The Maine CDC recommends the following steps to prevent or reduce risks of stroke:
-High blood pressure – risk is cut in half if blood pressure is kept at 120/80 or lower
-Being overweight or obese
-Smoking – doubles the risk – Call the Maine Tobacco HelpLine 1-800-207-1230
-Not being physically active
-Carotid artery disease (plaque buildup in the arteries that supply blood to your brain)
-Atrial fibrillation – increases the risk by 5 times
During Stroke Awareness Month, the Maine CDC/DHHS Cardiovascular Health Program and partners such as the American Stroke Association encourage everyone to know the signs of stroke, because knowing what to do when a stroke is happening is critical for improved outcomes. “Seeking rapid treatment by calling 911 and accessing help quickly can lessen the impact of a stroke,” said Dr. Mills. “That’s why it is important to know the signs of stroke, and immediately call 911.” Signs of stroke occur suddenly, and any one is reason to call 911 – immediately.”
The signs below, if happen suddenly, are the major signs of stroke:
-Numbness in the face, arm, or leg
-Dizziness or loss of balance
Chances of surviving a stroke and successful recovery are improved if the signs are recognized quickly and medical attention is given; the sooner a stroke patient receives treatment, the more likely that long-term damage may be avoided. “In many cases, a person experiencing a stroke does not realize it is occurring, but bystanders can recognize the signs and act quickly,” said Dr. Mills. “Through Stroke Awareness Month, we hope to make more people aware of what they can do to prevent strokes and seek early treatment.”