Yes, I'm getting older! My knees hurt for no reason at times and my joints pop and crack like an old house settling. Yet I continue to push through by working out regularly, eating healthy, and hoping to slow down Father Time and ignore my athletic mortality. Many of my physician colleagues admit to neglecting their health due to the busy lives they lead, but I try my best to practice what I preach. Stressing the importance of healthy eating, being physically active, taking medication as prescribed and regular follow ups with a physician is more than just a reflex recommendation to my patients. It is an integral part of my day-to-day practice as my goal is to prevent disease, not just to treat.
Despite having a family history of hypertension, diabetes and several types of cancers I have been able to avoid these dreadful diseases thus far. Never have I felt like "it could happen to me" until I bumped into a friend who took a beating from a stroke. Slurred speech, walking with a cane, and with obvious weakness on one side of his body, we reminisced about the "old days" and tried to laughed about the good times but he was not the same guy I met almost 30 years ago. The stroke had not only limited him physically, but impacted him mentally as he now battles with depression, not uncommon after suffering from a stroke. We talked for a while but he began to fatigue and as we went our separate ways I sat in my car I thought "that could happen to me."
The statistics are scary: every 40 seconds someone in America has a stroke and every four minutes an American dies from a stroke. Stroke is the number five cause of death in the United States and the number two killer worldwide. Stroke is a leading cause of disability in the world and the number one preventable cause of long term disability. African Americans have nearly twice the risk for a first-ever stroke than white Americans and often have strokes at younger ages. But this was my friend not a patient or a statistic and even as a physician it was hard to grasp.
As an educated African American male I'm sure he knew the risk. African Americans have the highest rates of high blood pressure in the world and controlling high blood pressure is the number one way to prevent a stroke. Diabetes, obesity, cigarette smoking, high cholesterol, and family history all increase our chances of having a stroke but I'm confident that he and his family physician had these things under control. The more we talked I discovered that not only was he knowledgeable of his risk of heart disease and stroke, he was actually putting his doctors recommendations into action. He did not however know the warning signs associated with a stroke.
The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association (AHA/ASA) state that around 1 in 3 Americans are unable to recall the warning signs of stroke and that is why they are urging all Americans to recognize the warning signs by using this simple acronym, F.A.S.T. - (F) face drooping; (A) arm weakness; (S) speech difficulty; (T) time to call 911. Not only will this help us remember the signs of a stroke, it will also give us the power to potentially save someone's life. Time lost is a brain lost and by recognizing the warning signs of a stroke early and calling 911, not driving to the hospital as my friend did, can not only be life saving but can limit the disability associated with this disease.
May is American Stroke Month and the AHA/ASA is asking everyone to learn how to spot a stroke F.A.S.T. and become a Stroke Hero! As a potential bystander, the quicker we can recognize the warning signs and call 911, the more likely we can make a difference between life and death or between full recovery and permanent disability. Join me and other stroke heroes who have the free "Spot a Stroke F.A.S.T." app at StrokeAssociation.org to learn more and to become a Stroke Hero!
Help the AHA/ASA close the gap in stroke awareness by increasing stroke knowledge across America. Make sure that you are equipped as a stroke hero to save someone's life in case of a stroke emergency. I wish I could have been there for my friend. Don't let it happen to someone you care about. Be ready!