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May is National Stroke Awareness Month

May 17, 2011

Help Spread Awareness About Stroke in May –  National Stroke Awareness Month

 Did you know stroke is largely preventable?


Stroke Survivor's Journey Back


Some 795,000 Americans will suffer a stroke this year, yet most people in the United States cannot identify stroke warning signs or risk factors. Many strokes – some studies indicate that up to 80 percent – can be prevented through risk factor management.


            “To honor National Stroke Awareness Month in May, Baystate Medical Center is joining the National Stroke Association in its efforts to educate Americans to learn about risk factor management and how to recognize and respond to warning signs by acting ‘FAST,’ said Dr. Carmel Armon, chief, Division of Neurology, Baystate Medical Center.


The following simple test can help you detect your own or someone else’s stroke symptoms and to Act F.A.S.T.:

  • Face – Smile. Does one side of the face droop?


  • Arms – Hold both arms up evenly. Does one arm drift downward?


  • Speech – Repeat a simple sentence. Are the words slurred or mixed up?


  • Time – If you or someone else exhibits any of these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately, the more time that passes, the more brain cells are damaged.


Other common stroke symptoms include: sudden weakness in the legs or on one side of the body; sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; sudden severe headache with no known cause.


            “There is no doubt that more education about stroke is needed. Public awareness of stroke warning signs and risk factors has not improved during the past five years, but May is a time to change this startling statistic,” said Dr. Armon. Strokes, also known as brain attacks, occur when blood vessels carrying oxygen to the brain are either blocked by a blood clot or rupture.


While 795,000 Americans are expected to suffer a stroke this year, nearly 500,000 of them can be prevented.


“If you are familiar with the warning signs, you may be able to get to the hospital in time to save your life, or even reverse the stroke itself. Many stroke patients do not realize they are having a stroke because brain cells are dying, which can affect their judgment,” said Dr. Armon.


According to Dr. Armon, the drug t-PA, or tissue plasminogen activator, may help reduce the impact of the stroke if it is administered within up to four-and-a-half hours of the initial stroke, but earlier is better, and the best results are within the first 90 minutes from stroke onset.


Strokes occur due to a mix of controllable and non-controllable risk factors, noted  the Baystate Medical Center neurologist. Several factors that increase the risk of stroke can be treated, including: 

  • atrial fibrillation
  • carotid artery disease
  • tobacco use
  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • elevated blood lipids
  • obesity
  • drinking too much alcohol


“You can control these risk factors by quitting smoking, exercising regularly, limiting alcohol consumption, and watching what and how much you eat,” said Dr. Armon.


Excess weight strains the circulatory system. Exercise five times a week is recommended along with maintaining a diet low in calories, salt, saturated and trans fats and cholesterol. Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables daily is also recommended.


Risk factors that are beyond a person’s control include being over age 55, being an African-American, and having a previous stroke or family history of stroke. According to the National Stroke Association, African Americans are impacted by stroke more than any other race in America. They are twice as likely to die from strokes as Caucasians and one-half of all African-American women will die from stroke or heart disease.  African American stroke survivors are more likely to become disabled and experience difficulties with daily living.  Why they are at greater risk isn’t clear, but factors such as an increased rate of high blood pressure, diabetes, sickle cell anemia, smoking and obesity play a major role.


Although commonly thought of as a men’s disease, about 55,000 more women have a stroke than men each year, and twice as many women die from stroke than they do from breast cancer.


Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, and Baystate Mary Lane Hospital in Ware, part of Baystate Health, are all “Designated Stroke Centers,” and treat over 500 stroke patients a year.  Stroke designation, the result of an extensive on-site survey by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, is awarded to hospitals who demonstrate they have the medical expertise, diagnostic equipment and treatment protocols available around-the-clock to treat emergency stroke patients. 


“Undergoing rehabilitation is a very important part of the stroke treatment process,” said James Maloney PT, program manager, Baystate Rehab Care.  He noted rehabilitation physicians and therapists are part of the hospital team to ensure that patients get “the right treatment at the right time” and they create a plan that is put into place before patients leave the hospital to maximize improvement.


After discharge from the hospital, Baystate Rehabilitation Care offers a full range of outpatient stroke rehabilitation services and a specialized neuro-rehabilitation therapy program to help stroke patients regain function. To find a location nearest you, call Baystate Health Link at 413-794-2255 or outside the Springfield calling area at 1-800-377-4325.


For more information on stroke, visit and click on Neurosciences under the Services tab.