By Daniel J. Vance


  The 2000 U.S. Census officially says 49,746,248, but it only counted persons age 5 and older. Add in toddlers and infants and the United States has more than 50 million persons with at least one disability. And of the official count almost four million were persons of all ages who had survived a stroke and were living with its disabling after-effects.

  A stroke, or brain attack, occurs when a clot forms or a vessel breaks in the brain and shuts down blood flow, killing brain cells. The brain has four sections, and the kind of after-effect depends on the area affected and the severity. A paralysis on one side of the body is common.

  Despite the fact that stroke is the nation's leading cause of adult disability with 750,000 new cases annually and third-leading cause of death, many people still haven't heard the message that most strokes can be prevented.

  "Stroke is a syndrome, rather than a disease per se," said Dr. Don B. Smith, National Stroke Association (NSA) spokesperson and Director of the Colorado Neurological Institute, "and as such, it may have different causes in different people. Things that lower stroke risk for most people are controlling high blood pressure, avoiding smoking, maintaining normal weight, eating sensibly, avoiding high cholesterol levels, and exercising regularly."

  Not only can strokes be prevented, but also its after-effects can be greatly reduced if people would only learn to recognize symptoms. A stroke is a "brain attack." Symptoms usually happen suddenly. For instance, a person might suddenly experience a severe headache, numbness on one side of the body in the face, arm or leg, difficulty seeing in one or both eyes, and trouble walking, talking and understanding speech.

  The National Stroke Association cites a Univ. of Cincinnati study that showed more than 50 percent of persons experiencing stroke might not realize it. Time is of the essence. NSA says it is critical for everyone to "Be Stroke Smart" and learn the 3 R's: Reduce risk, Recognize symptoms, and Respond by calling 911.

  About 35 percent of stroke victims recover with minor impairments. The rest, 65 percent, require special care, long-term nursing care or they die.

  "For any given individual, the best way to lower stroke risk depends on one's personal risk profile, something that is best worked out with one's doctor," said Dr. Smith. To learn more, visit www.stroke.org.

  [Contact Mr. Vance through www.danieljvance.com.]