In an effort to raise awareness about the risk of stroke and how to take action if one should occur, Governor Kathleen Blanco has proclaimed May as Stroke Awareness Month.  Throughout the month, the Louisiana Department of Health (DHH) is urging people to learn the signs and symptoms of stroke, talk to their doctors about stroke prevention and adopt healthier lifestyles.

To promote Stroke Awareness Month, DHH’s Heart Disease and Stroke Program is challenging Louisiana residents to take the American Stroke Association’s Stroke Pledge in order to become better informed about the danger and know how to respond in the event of a stroke.  The pledge can be accessed at  The program has also launched a statewide stroke prevention radio campaign.

A stroke occurs when the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain is interrupted by a blood clot or a broken blood vessel.  Brain cells in the immediate area then die, often causing physical and emotional disabilities, including speech problems, memory loss and paralysis. Stroke, which accounted for more than 2,500 deaths in 2003, is the third leading cause of death and the leading cause of adult disability in Louisiana, according to the 2005 Louisiana State of the Heart Report.

“Stroke is one of the most preventable of all life-threatening health problems,” said LDH Secretary Dr. Fred Cerise. “Learning the signs of stroke and working with a primary care doctor to manage stroke risk factors will lead to fewer incidences of stroke and disability for the residents of our state.”

High blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, obesity and family history can contribute to or increase the risk of stroke.  Women and African-Americans face an increased risk of stroke. In addition, 25 percent of strokes occur in people under the age of 65, according to the American Stroke Association.

Signs of stroke include sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arms or legs; sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding others; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; sudden trouble walking, dizziness or loss of balance or coordination; and sudden severe headache with no known cause.

To help minimize the effects of a stroke, treatment must be given within three hours of the first symptom. Immediate emergency medical attention is vital in the event of a stroke. The National Stroke Association developed the F.A.S.T. test to check for stroke signs in the face, arms and speech and to remind people that time is an important factor in the treatment of stroke. 

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:  Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Are words slurred or repeated incorrectly?
TIME:     If the person shows any of these symptoms, time is important. Call 911 or get to the hospital fast.

For more information on stroke prevention and treatment, visit