Recognizing the Signs of Stroke

Early recognition of a stroke is important, especially for African Americans.  According to the National Stroke Association, the rate of strokes in African Americans is almost double that of Caucasians. 


If signs of a stroke are missed, time will slip by and the opportunity for effective treatment will be lost.  If a stroke is suspected, go directly to the emergency room or call 911. 


Warning signs of a stroke include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially 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.

If you think someone may be having a stroke, act F.A.S.T. and do this simple test recommended by the National Stroke Association:

Act F.A.S.T.


Ask the person to smile.

Does one side of the face droop?


Ask the person to raise both arms.

Does one arm drift downward?


Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence.

Are the words slurred?  Can he/she repeat the sentence correctly?


If the person shows any of these symptoms, time is important. 

Call 911 or get to the hospital fast. Brain cells are dying.

What is a Stroke?

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in America and the number one cause of adult disability.  A stroke or "brain attack" occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery (a blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the body) or a blood vessel (a tube through which the blood moves through the body) breaks, interrupting blood flow to an area of the brain.  When either of these things happen, brain cells begin to die and brain damage occurs.

When brain cells die during a stroke, abilities controlled by that area of the brain are lost.  These abilities include speech, movement and memory.  How a stroke patient is affected depends on where the stroke occurs in the brain and how much the brain is damaged.

For example, someone who has a small stroke may experience only minor problems such as weakness of an arm or leg.  People who have larger strokes may be paralyzed on one side or lose their ability to speak.  Some people recover completely from strokes, but more than two-thirds of survivors will have some type of disability.

What causes Stroke?

Stroke can be caused by high blood pressure (hypertension), heart problems, aging arteries and high cholesterol

You may be more likely to have a stroke if you:

  • Smoke
  • Do little exercise
  • Drink a lot of alcohol
  • Eat a fatty diet
  • Are overweight
  • Have diabetes
  • Are older
  • Have a family history of stroke

Georgia is a part of the Stroke Belt

Several decades ago, scientists and statisticians noticed that people in the southeastern United States had the highest stroke mortality rate in the country. They named this region the Stroke Belt.    Recent studies have also shown that Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina have an extremely high stroke mortality rate, greater than the rate in other Stroke Belt states and up to two times the stroke mortality rate of the U.S. overall. 

The increased risk could be due to geographic or environmental factors or to regional differences in lifestyle, including higher rates of cigarette smoking and a regional preference for salty, high-fat foods.

African Americans and Stroke

According to the National Stroke Association, African Americans are twice as likely to die from stroke as Caucasians.  The rate of first strokes in African Americans is almost double that of Caucasians.  The statistics are staggering -- African Americans are affected by stroke more often than any other group.


Not all of the reasons are clear why African Americans have an increased risk of stroke.  Some factors include a higher rate of:

  • High blood pressure.  High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for stroke, and one in three African Americans suffer from high blood pressure.
  • Diabetes.  People with diabetes have a higher stroke risk.
  • Sickle cell anemia.  If sickle-shaped cells block a blood vessel to the brain, a stroke can result

African Americans also have a higher incidence than Caucasians of obesity and smoking, two other factors that can increase your risk for stroke.


Preventing Stroke


Control your blood pressure. High blood pressure increases your risk for stroke by as much as six times. Because high blood pressure has no symptoms, you can't gauge your pressure by the way you feel. You must have it checked and treated with medication, if necessary.


Don't smoke. Smokers are twice as likely as nonsmokers to suffer a stroke, because of the effects of nicotine and carbon monoxide. Smoking and using oral contraceptives increases the risk for stroke even more.


Reduce your alcohol intake. Too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure, which increases your risk for stroke. Alcohol also can lead to obesity and raise triglyceride levels. Men should have no more than two drinks a day; women, one.


Eat a healthy diet. Limit your intake of high-fat and high-cholesterol foods. Too much cholesterol in your bloodstream can cause a buildup of plaque in your blood vessels that can block blood flow to your brain, causing a stroke. It also can put you at risk for heart disease, a strong risk factor for stroke.


Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables every day. Doing so can reduce your risk.


Exercise regularly. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days. This can help lower your blood pressure and your risk for heart disease, both of which are risk factors for stroke.


Remember to always consult with your doctor. 


Helpful Links


National Stroke Association:


National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke:


American Stroke Association: