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Act Fast: Know the Signs of a Stroke

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When it comes to treating stroke, minutes matter. This means it is important to know your risk and take action to reduce that risk.

A stroke occurs when a blockage or abnormality in an artery causes a lack of blood flow to the brain. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), African-American men are at greater risk of having a stroke than any other group of men in the United States.


Similarly, African-American women are more likely to have a stroke than any other group of women in the United States. They also are more likely to have strokes at younger ages and to have more severe strokes.

There is some good news, though. According to the American Stroke Association, 80 percent of all strokes are preventable.


“There really is no rhyme or reason to when a stroke can happen,” said Dr. Carlene Kingston, stroke medical director at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center in Charlotte. “For every minute a stroke is left untreated, up to two million brain cells die. That’s why it’s critical to recognize the signs and symptoms of stroke and seek treatment as soon as possible.”


Despite 80 percent of strokes being preventable, Kingston said it’s no accident that it’s the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States. The CDC reports that African-American men and women may have multiple risk factors that increase their risk of having a stroke, including:


  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Obesity
  • Eating too much salt

And when it comes to age, strokes don’t discriminate.

Twenty-nine-year-old Chris Lyons never thought he could have a stroke, but that changed one morning last April, when he was rushed to the hospital when his girlfriend recognized that something wasn’t quite right.

“I noticed my arm didn’t really feel like my arm anymore,” Lyons said. “I tried to push myself up onto the couch, but my leg wasn’t really working, either. I told my girlfriend I was fine, but she could tell that I wasn’t.”

Although Lyons felt no pain, his speech was slurred and his limbs were numb. His girlfriend called 911.


Kingston noted that strokes are not often associated with pain. Instead, they’re typically found when a friend or family member notices something different about their loved ones. When this happens, act “FAST,” which stands for:

  • 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: Is the speech slurred or strange?
  • Time: If you see any of these signs, call 911.


An ambulance arrived to take Lyons to the emergency room, where Kingston and her team began to treat his stroke. He received the drug tPA and acute endovascular intervention, meaning a small catheter was used to remove the blood clot.

“Thankfully, he got to us early enough that there were no long-lasting effects from his stroke,” Kingston said. “Had he arrived later or not come at all, it could have been much worse.”

According to the American Stroke Association, patients treated within three hours of a stroke have improved chances of recovery. Kingston said tPA the drug is given within 45 minutes, 50 percent of the time, at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center.

“The faster the medication is administered, the better the outcomes for our patients,” Kingston said.

Lyons said he is thankful to be alive today, with the only reminder of his stroke being poor vision in his right eye. “I never thought it would happen to me, being 29,” he said. “I feel like I definitely got a second chance.”


Novant Health is a not-for-profit, integrated healthcare system that serves approximately 4 million patients annually in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. For more information visit novanthealth.org.


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