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Stroke is the No. 5 cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States. An important way to prevent and treat stroke is through education. May is American Stroke Month, a time to spotlight stroke and create awareness of what a stroke is, how it can be prevented and what the warning signs are.


What is a stroke?

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel bringing blood and oxygen to the brain gets blocked or ruptures. When this happens, brain cells don’t get the blood and oxygen that they need to survive, which causes nerve cells to stop working and die within minutes. Then, the part of the body those nerve cells control can’t function either. The effects of stroke may be permanent depending on how many cells are lost, where they are in the brain and other factors.


What are the risk factors for stroke?

Eighty percent of all strokes can be prevented. Knowing your risk factors for stroke is the first step in preventing one. Some risk factors — age, gender, heredity, race and prior stroke — cannot be controlled, but the majority can be changed or treated.


Some of the treatable risk factors include:

• High blood pressure

• Tobacco use

• Diabetes

• High cholesterol

• Physical inactivity and obesity

• Carotid or other artery disease

• Transient ischemic attacks, or mini strokes

• Atrial fibrillation

• Certain blood disorders

• Excessive alcohol intake

• Illegal drug use

During the COVID-19 pandemic, St. Mary’s emergency rooms in both Huntington and Ironton are urging the public not to delay emergency care for issues, such as stroke symptoms.

“We understand people are concerned about exposure to COVID-19 when coming to the ER. However, we are starting to see patients with chest pain, abdominal pain, and stroke symptoms wait too long to be evaluated,” said Larry Hutchison, MD, medical director, SMMC Huntington Emergency Department. “Many of these symptoms represent problems where every minute counts. We have your safety in mind and are taking extra precautions to keep you safe while being evaluated in the emergency department.”

MHN is also working with area EMS systems to ensure ambulances are sanitized and personnel are wearing necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) when responding to calls.


Comprehensive Stroke Care

Stroke Certification by the Healthcare Facilities Accreditation Program (HFAP), a national independent accreditation organization recognized by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Certification confirms that St. Mary’s is providing high quality care as determined by an independent, external process of evaluation.


What are the warning signs of stroke?

Use the letters in “BEFAST” to spot stroke signs and know when to call 9-1-1:

Balance. Does the person have loss of balance, headache or dizziness?

Eyes. Does the person have blurred vision?

Face drooping. Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile uneven or lopsided?

Arm weakness. Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

Speech. Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence.

Time to call 9-1-1. If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 to get them to the hospital immediately.

For more information about St. Mary’s Regional Stroke Center, visit

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