10/26/2014 10:09 pm ET Updated Dec 26, 2014

Hispanics Urged to Break Cultural Cycle in Stroke Disparities

By Dr. Jose Biller

When Noelia's husband tipped the scales at 250 pounds, she made it her mission to educate her family about the risk of stroke. A month later, that education saved a life - hers. Ironically, Noelia became a stroke survivor.

One in four men and one in three women suffer a stroke - the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S.

For that reason, the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association targets Hispanics to raise awareness on World Stroke Day, Oct. 29.

Stroke prevalence is projected to increase the most among Hispanic men between now and 2030.

A multidimensional culturally tailored approach to the diverse Hispanic population in the United States is encouraged when aiming to narrow the knowledge gap of stroke risk factors and stroke warning signs.

Understanding the warning signs can speed up the process of receiving quality care, ultimately reducing the effects of a stroke and its recovery time, or even saving a life - it's that serious.

The American Stroke Association's Together to End Stroke initiative, which is nationally sponsored by Covidien, teaches the acronym F.A.S.T. as an easy way to recognize the most common stroke warning signs and what to do if you suspect someone is having a stroke.

F.A.S.T. stands for:

• F - Face Drooping: Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile.
• A - Arm Weakness: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms.
Does one arm drift downward?
• S - Speech Difficulty: Is speech slurred, are they unable to speak, or are they hard to understand. Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence like, "The sky is blue." Is the sentence repeated correctly?
• T - Time to call 9-1-1: If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get them to the hospital immediately.

Additional stroke signs include: Sudden severe headache with no known cause; sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; or sudden confusion or trouble understanding.

Despite social norms and behaviors, Hispanics have the ability to become cultural game-changers, positively impacting their health outcomes and influencing others by making a few simple lifestyle changes.

The sociocultural underpinnings and other perceived barriers of the limited participation of Hispanics in clinical medical research should be further investigated, while encouraging Hispanics in the USA to enhanced health care utilization and participation in stroke prevention trials.

Take one minute to join the pledge to end stroke to see how you can make a difference in your community. Together, we can end stroke.

José Biller, M.D., is a volunteer American Stroke Association national spokesperson. He is a professor and chair of neurology at the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.