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Editorial: Respond FAST to stroke symptoms

May is Stroke Awareness Month; although the month is almost over, a stroke, of course, can come at any time. But perhaps the better title should be Stroke Recognition Awareness Month.

Dr. Sandra Ruby, the medical director of the Carroll Hospital stroke program, recently told us that the key to being able to survive a stroke and minimize the long-term effects is to recognize the signs and immediately seek medical attention.

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About 800,000 Americans have a stroke every year, and someone dies from a stroke every four minutes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is the fifth-leading cause of death in the U.S. About 85 percent of strokes in the United States are ischemic, caused by a blood clot, according to the American Stroke Association.

Clot-busting medications and other advances developed in recent years have allowed higher survival rates of this type of stroke over the past decade, but there is still a "golden window" — about three hours — between the onset of symptoms and receiving medical treatment necessary to administer these types of drugs.

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Unfortunately, people tend to rationalize symptoms of the stroke as something else — sleeping funny might be an explanation for numbness in the arm, for example — and don't get treatment quickly enough, with potentially dire consequences.

In March 2015, Carroll Hospital became a certified primary stroke center, meaning patients could receive treatment there — rather than being sent to Sinai Hospital in Baltimore or Northwest Hospital in Randallstown — saving critical time in treating stroke patients. Still, if patients don't get to the emergency room fast enough, their medical options and chances of surviving or limiting life-altering damage shrink significantly.

Stroke is more common for older adults, especially those with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or atrial fibrillation, but it can affect people of any age. In fact, a new study by University of Southern California researchers showed there has been a 44 percent increase in strokes for 25- to 44-year-olds in the past 10 years. So it's important that everyone know the symptoms and how to react.

Doctors say to remember the acronym FAST: Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, Time to call 911. And fast is exactly how you should react if you experience these symptoms. Your life, literally, might depend on it.

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