A stroke is called the silent killer, and for good reason. There are few symptoms until a stroke actually occurs and many times, help is too little or too late. Stroke currently ranks fifth when it comes to leading causes of death in the U.S., according to the American Stroke Association, and while approximately 20 percent of these are attributed to genetics, the majority of strokes are preventable by making healthy choices.

So what is a stroke? A stroke occurs when a blood vessel to the brain gets blocked by a clot or bursts and deprives the brain of oxygen. This can cause lasting brain damage, serious long-term disabilities or even death.

About 795,000 Americans each year suffer from strokes – that’s a stroke an average of every 40 seconds.

There are essentially three types of strokes:

Ischemic stroke occurs as a result of an obstruction within a blood vessel supplying blood to the brain. It accounts for 87% of all stroke cases.

Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a weakened blood vessel ruptures. Two types of weakened blood vessels usually cause hemorrhagic stroke: aneurysms and arteriovenous malformations. The most common cause of hemorrhagic stroke is uncontrolled high blood pressure.

TIA (transient ischemic attack) is caused by a temporary clot. Often called a “mini stroke,” these warning strokes should be taken very seriously.

A common myth is that strokes only occur in the elderly. The risk for stroke does indeed double after age 55; however, one in every seven strokes occurs in individuals 15 to 49 years old.

A healthy diet coupled with moderate exercise – basically known as an overall healthy lifestyle – can help keep your risk factors in check. Of course, visit your doctor before starting on any new diet or exercise regimen. There is a handy acronym that can help you determine if you or someone you love may be having a stroke. Learn to recognize these stroke signs FAST:

F  Face Drooping 

Is one side of the face drooping or numb. (Ask the person to smile – is the smile uneven?)

A  Arm Weakness 

Is one arm weak or numb? (Ask the person to raise both arms – is one arm drifting downward?)

S  Speech Difficulty 

Is speech slurring or hard to understand? (Ask the person to say your name or repeat a sentence – is it correct?)

T  Time to call 9-1-1 

If you or someone you know is showing these symptoms – even if they go away – it’s time to call for help and get to the hospital immediately. Check the time so you’ll know when you first recognized the symptoms.

The faster you can get help, the better your prognosis will be. Educating yourself and others is the best way to keep this silent killer away from you and your loved ones.

Trenton resident, Justin Adams, D.O., is a Henry Ford Wyandotte family physician with an office in Allen Park. His wife, Nicole Taurence Adams, D.O., was born and raised in Trenton. She is a resident working in the emergency room at Henry Ford Macomb Hospital.

Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital is located at 2333 Biddle Ave., Wyandotte.  Visit henryfordwyandotte.com for further information.