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Health Officials Want FAST Response to Stroke Warning Signs
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October 29 is World Stroke Day. Mississippi has the third-highest stroke death rate in the nation, and as MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports, health officials want to make sure everyone knows the warning signs.

FAST. That’s what to remember when it comes to warning signs of a stroke. FAST stands for Face Drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty and Time to call 9-1-1.

Dr. Ruth Fredericks is Medical Director of the stroke program at St. Dominic Hospital in Jackson.

"If we can get a patient in within a couple of hours of having the onset of stroke symptoms, and we find that they have a stroke, and we can treat them with certain different types of treatment that are available now, then their chances of a meaningful recovery are better," she says.

Risk factors for stroke include high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking.

University of Alabama at Birmingham professor George Howard is the lead scientist for a national study looking at why stroke is more common in the South and among African Americans. He says the Southern diet appears to play a role.

"As you can tell by my accent, I was brought up in the South," he says. "And (part of that) is the food that my mother used to put before me when I was growing up -- fried foods, organ meats, and sweet tea and other things. One of our investigators has found that that is a substantial contributer to these geographic differences."

Dr. Howard says African Americans between the ages of 45 and 65 are three times more likely to die from stroke than their white counterparts. Hypertension is higher among African Americans, and while this doesn’t entirely explain the difference in the mortality rates, the study hasfound that hypertension poses a triple threat:

"The first is that African Americans are more likely to have hypertension," he says. "The second threat is that once they have it, they're much less likely to have it controlled or below the recommended levels. The third threat is that, once it's not below those recommended levels, it's three times more harmful to them than to their white counterparts."

The state Department of Health says about 1500 Mississippians die from a stroke every year.


About 1500 people died from a stroke last year in Mississippi. Dr. Lee Voulters, medical director of the Memorial Stroke Center in Gulfport, explains why it's important to respond as quickly as possible to stroke warning signs:

"There's a certain critical time period where we may be able to give what is now known as the clot-buster drug to appropriate patients," he says. "The clot-buster drugs means it will dissolve the clot that is forming in the majority of strokes.

"If we can dissolve that clot, we have the opportunity to reverse all the neurological symptoms and they have an opportunity to make an excellent recovery from the stroke." 

The American Stroke Association says one in six people worldwide will have a stroke in their lifetime.