Many of us don’t fully understand what a stroke does, what causes one and whether we are at risk.

Do you know the signs of stroke?

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You’ve heard of strokes. But can you explain what it is? Many of us don’t fully understand what a stroke does, what causes one and whether we are at risk. But this stat gives you a reason to find out: Stroke is the 4th-leading cause of death in the country, according to the American Heart Association. In fact, someone in the U.S. suffers a stroke every 40 seconds, and someone dies from one every 4 minutes.

What is a stroke really?

Sure, we’re all familiar with the term stroke, but have you ever wondered what really happens to the body when one begins? A stroke occurs when either a blood clot blocks an artery or blood vessel ruptures, and the brain’s blood flow is interrupted. This is sometimes called a “brain attack,” because when either of these things happens, brain cells die, resulting in brain damage.

How do I know if it’s a stroke?

Stroke is the leading cause of debilitating disability, but it’s also the leading cause of preventable disability. If someone receives treatment within three hours of the first symptom, they can avoid the most severe long-term affects.

That’s why it’s important that you learn the FAST acronym. Go ahead; repeat it: F-A-S-T. Committing it to memory could save a life because it’s an easy way to tell if you or a loved one may be having a stroke:

Face drooping: Ask the person to smile. Notice whether one side of the face droops.

Arm weakness: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one hang downward?

Speech difficulty: Is their speech slurred or unclear if they repeat a simple phrase?

Time to call 911: If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately. Don’t wait.

These four symptoms are the most common and evident tell-tale signs. But they are not the only warning signs you may notice. Additional stroke symptoms do exist. These may include:

  • Sudden trouble with vision in one or both eyes
  • Severe headache that comes on quickly
  • Trouble walking, loss of balance/coordination, dizziness that comes on quickly
  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the leg or face
  • Cognitive confusion or trouble understanding
  • Do I have to worry about stroke?

You may think strokes happen to other people, people who are much older or have health issues. Not necessarily.

Strokes can affect anyone, and can also occur in young people and children. So who’s most at risk? Those most susceptible to stroke include:

  • People age 55 and older
  • African Americans
  • Women
  • People with a family history of stroke
  • Diabetics
  • Smokers
  • People with carotid, peripheral or other artery disease
  • Anyone who has suffered a prior stroke or heart attack

Not all risk factors are within your control, but some are – so if you were looking for a reason to finally quit smoking, now’s as good a time as any.

Even if you don’t fit the high-risk description, stroke could still affect your life, so familiarizing yourself with the topic is wise. Knowing the signs and identifying them quickly can help prevent lasting stroke damage in you or a loved one.