October 29th is World Stroke Day: Maine neurologist and survivor urge you to learn the FAST warning signs

October 29 is World Stroke Day. The American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association, a global force for healthier lives for all – is dedicated to saving people from stroke. Stroke is the No. 2 cause of death in the world and a leading cause of serious disability.

Strokes can happen to anyone at any age. In fact, globally one in four adults over the age of 25 will have a stroke in their lifetime. Each year, approximately 800,000 people in the U.S. suffer a stroke. Most adults in the U.S. do not know the F.A.S.T warning signs of a stroke, and that stroke is largely treatable if you call 911 as soon as you recognize the symptoms.

“The sooner a stroke patient is able to get to the hospital, the more likely they are to make a strong recovery,” said MMC neurosurgeon Robert Ecker, MD. “If you notice your face drooping, have arm weakness or difficulty speaking, call 911 immediately.”

Christine with her boyfriend Lloyd

Christine Gifford of Oakland suffered a stroke when she was 49. “My symptoms were vomiting and a severe headache. I thought it was food poisoning as I had just gone out to dinner with my family. My mom and boyfriend made a fast decision to call 911. I was taken by ambulance to a local hospital and then was transported by ambulance to Portland,” said Gifford.

Christine with her son Cameron two months prior to her stroke

“After spending three and a half weeks in the ICU,” she added, “I had to learn to do everything for myself that I could no longer do – eating, cooking, bathing – and needed round the clock home care. I have double-vision to this day, and I have difficult reading. If I do too much around the house, I get very dizzy. I went through all the stages of grief because I lost the life I once had– it was very hard emotionally to adjust, and I was disappointed to not be able to return to work or be able drive.”

Christine with her brother Marc post-stroke

Recognizing the stroke warning signs and calling 911 immediately may make the difference between a strong recovery or long-term disability, survival or death.

Learn how to spot a stroke F.A.S.T.:

  • Face Dropping – Does one side off the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s 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? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue.”
  • Time to call 9-1-1 – If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital immediately. Check the time so you’ll know when the first symptoms appeared.

 “Get to know the stroke warning signs. I was lucky that my family did. The sooner you get medical care the better. My family recognized I needed help and because of that I’m here today,” said Gifford.

According to the Association, a large majority of strokes can be prevented through education and lifestyle changes such as moving more, eating smart and managing your blood pressure. Some people have a higher stroke risk, like stroke survivors and people who have atrial fibrillation (AFib), but a stroke can happen to anyone at any point in their lifetime.  Most strokes caused by AFib could have been prevented with effective treatment, but only about half of AFib patients receive proper therapy.

Knowing your numbers such as total cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and body mass index can help reduce your risk, as well as knowing your family history of heart disease and stroke. The Association encourages you to learn these numbers and your family history, and then talk to your doctor about lowering your personal risk for stroke. In addition to checking your blood pressure and taking medication as prescribed, quit smoking and vaping, eat better, get healthy sleep and be active—these things not only help you avoid health problems issues later, but they also set a great example for those around you.

For more information, visit www.Stroke.org/WorldStrokeDay.