Stroke warning signs, risk factors, and prevention

Know the facts. You can spot a stroke quickly and increase your chances to avoid one. 

The main sings of a stroke can be summed up in the B.E. F.A.S.T. acronym:

BALANCE: Is there a sudden loss of balance or coordination?
EYES: Is there sudden blurred or double vision or sudden, persistent vision trouble?

FACE: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
ARMS: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
SPEECH: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
TIME: If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 or emergency medical services immediately.

Remember, a stroke is usually sudden. Look for these signs:
  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the leg, arm or face
  • Sudden confusion or trouble 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

Certain risk factors can increase your chances of having a stroke. If you any of the following risk factors, work with your doctor to address them:

Controllable risk factors (see this):
  • High blood pressure -- the leading cause of stroke and the most important controllable risk factor for stroke
  • High cholesterol -- can be lowered though diet or medication
  • Diabetes -- can be treated
  • Smoking  -- smoking doubles the risk for stroke
  • Alcohol use -- only drink 1 glass per day of beer or wine
  • Obesity -- watch what and how much you eat
  • Atrial fibrillation -- can be treated
  • Stress -- can be lessened (see Stress and Strokes: What You Need to Know)

Uncontrollable risk factors:
  • Age -- The chance of having a stroke approximately doubles for each decade of life after age 55.
  • Gender -- Strokes are more common in men.
  • Race -- African Americans and Hispanics are higher at risk.
  • Family history -- Your stroke risk is greater if a parent, grandparent, sister, or brother has had a stroke.
  • Previous stroke or TIA -- Your stroke risk goes up if already had one or mini-stroke (TIA). 
  • Being human -- see this study that helps explain why even vegetarian humans without any other obvious cardiovascular risk factors are still very prone to heart attacks and strokes, while other evolutionary relatives are not.
  • Early menopause (earlier than 40).
  • Having a diagonal earlobe crease (known as Frank's Sign) like this:
    Frank's Sign
Although this is still debated, having Frank's Sign seems to be associated with strokes. See this article.

Sometimes the cause of a stroke is not known. These strokes are called “cryptogenic.” About 1/3 of ischemic strokes are classified as cryptogenic. Some cryptogenic strokes are ultimately explained with further testing, but others remain a mystery. For more info, see this link.

Reducing your risk though diet and food:
  • Research seems to indicate that coffee and tea, in moderate amounts, can be beneficial for individuals after stroke.
  • Studies have showed that people who eat a "Mediterranean" diet rich in nuts or extra virgin olive oil  had 30% fewer heart attacks, strokes, or deaths from cardiovascular disease.
  • Drinking can make you less likely to have a stroke. Studies have shown that if you have one drink of wine per day, your risk may be lower. But once you start drinking more than two drinks per day, your risk goes up very sharply.
  • Research has found that eating chocolate -- up to two standard candy bars a day -- are 11% less likely than those who eat little to no chocolate to have heart attacks and strokes, and 25% less likely to die of cardiovascular disease. But this article recommends, "eat it in moderation because you like it, not because you think it is good for you."
See also:

Reducing the chances of a second stroke: