According to the American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association, about 795,000 Americans suffer a new or recurrent stroke each year, which means that a stroke occurs every 40 seconds on average. About 610,000 of these are first or new strokes, and an estimated 185,000 people who survive a stroke go on to have another in their lifetime.

The American Stroke Association notes that major milestones have been reached in the fight against stroke. Earlier this year federal statistics showed that for the first time in 50 years, stroke has dropped from the third to the fourth leading cause of death in our nation. However, stroke still claims an estimated 130,000 Americans each year and remains a leading cause of long-term disability.

The American Stroke Association urges everyone to participate this May in American Stroke Awareness Month by taking time to learn about warning signs and ways to prevent this often deadly and debilitating disease.

Stroke is a type of cardiovascular disease that occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts. When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood that it needs to function.

Know the signs of a stroke:

• Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body;

• Sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding;

• Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes;

• Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance;

• Sudden, severe headache with no known cause.

If you or someone with you has one or more of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately. Time is of the essence when it comes to a stroke. If a clot-busting drug called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) is given within the recommended start of symptoms, it can reduce long-term disability for the most common type of stroke.

The American Stroke Association notes that some stroke risk factors are hereditary or are part of natural processes, including a prior stroke or heart attack, age, family history, gender, or race. African Americans have almost twice the risk of experiencing a first-ever stroke compared to white Americans

Other risk factors can be changed or controlled, including high blood pressure, smoking, high blood cholesterol, poor diet, and physical inactivity.

The American Stroke Association recommends the following to lessen your risk for stroke:

• Eat a healthy diet. Eat a variety of nutritious foods from all of the food groups. Choose foods like lean meats, fish and poultry without skin, vegetables, fruits, whole-grain products, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products. Cut back on foods and beverages high in cholesterol, salt, and added sugars.

• Know your blood pressure.

• People with normal blood pressure have about half the risk of stroke as those with high blood pressure.

• Exercise every day.

Walk or do other forms of physical activity for at least 30 minutes on most or all days. Check with your doctor before beginning any exercise routine.

• Stop smoking.

Nonsmokers have about half the risk of stroke as people who smoke cigarettes.

• Avoid excessive alcohol consumption.

An average of more than one alcoholic drink a day for women or more than two drinks a day for men raises blood pressure and can lead to a stroke.

• Stop any illegal drug use.

Intravenous drug abuse carries a high risk of stroke. Cocaine use has also been linked to strokes and heart attacks. Some have been fatal even in first-time users.

• Make sure you receive quality care.

Finding a doctor you can trust can be challenging. That’s why the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) and the American Heart Association/ American Stroke Association joined forces to create a new program that recognizes primary care physicians and others who care for patients with cardiovascular disease and stroke.

To learn more, visit

Brenda Vitali is the communications director for the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association in Maine.