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Dr. Frasat Chaudhry, St. Luke's Hospital

Prevention and immediate treatment of stroke are key

Stroke is the No. 3 killer of Americans each year, and a quarter of all strokes occur in people younger than 65.

Perhaps more startling is the fact that 55,000 more women than men have strokes each year. More women die from stroke, too. In fact, stroke kills more women than breast cancer.

The good news is that almost 80 percent of strokes can be prevented by controlling certain risk factors. These include high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, atrial fibrillation and heart disease. You can control these risk factors by eating a healthy diet, exercising, moderating your alcohol intake and not smoking.

There are also a number of risk factors you can't control. These include age, gender, race, family history and some forms of structural heart disease.

Women in particular have additional risk factors for stroke. These include use of birth control pills, use of hormone replacement therapy, pregnancy, migraines and abdominal obesity.

A stroke occurs when blood supply to the brain is cut off due to a blood vessel clot or rupture. Common stroke symptoms include numbness or weakness in one arm or leg or on one side of the face, difficulty speaking or understanding, double vision or sudden loss of vision, difficulty walking, loss of balance and dizziness. A sudden, severe headache can also be a red flag.

Some symptoms tend to occur more often in women. These include sudden face and limb pain, hiccups, nausea, a fast or skipped heartbeat, chest pain and overall weakness.

According to the National Stroke Association, a vast majority of Americans do not treat stroke as an emergency. But a stroke is an emergency. It is a "brain attack" and should be considered as serious as a heart attack.

If you or a loved one experiences stroke symptoms, recognizing them early is vital so that treatment can be started as soon as possible. Every minute counts because some therapies need to be started within a certain time frame. It's best, however, to prevent stroke in the first place by keeping your risk factors under control.

Dr. Frasat Chaudhry is a board-certified neurologist at St. Luke's Hospital. Call 314-878-2888 or visit her Meet the Doctor page.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on May 20, 2010.