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Understanding stroke: Prevention, recognition and management

May 22, 2024 - Your Health Matters

In 2018, Meritus Medical Center was treating an average of 600 stroke patients per year.

Since then, the number has increased to more than 1,000 per year, said Jennifer Smith, B.S.N., R.N., stroke care specialist at Meritus Medical Center.

“We’ve seen a higher number especially since the COVID pandemic, but we’re also seeing more younger patients,” Smith said, adding that the hospital has seen stroke patients in their 30s.

The reason for the increase in the young adults is due to how quickly poor lifestyle choices can affect the body and the overall risk for stroke in young adults. Experts have long known that diet and lifestyle contribute significantly to cardiovascular health. High cholesterol, diabetes and obesity are major risk factors.

The American Heart Association highlights "Life's Essential 8" factors that have the most influence on cardiovascular health. Eat better, be more active, quit tobacco, get healthy sleep, manage weight, control cholesterol, manage blood sugar and manage blood pressure.

Understanding stroke risk factors is crucial for prevention, Smith said. However, certain factors, such as age, race, gender and family history are beyond one's control.

“That’s why you should follow up with your primary care provider regularly,” she said.

Maryland became a Stroke Smart State in 2022, meaning there is increased focus on educating the public about the causes of stroke, the signs and symptoms of stroke, and the importance of dialing 9-1-1 immediately to reduce the chances of permanent disability or death.

Meritus is working to get Washington County and Hagerstown to adopt a similar proclamation announcing they also are dedicated to being Stroke Smart.

A part of being Stroke Smart includes educating the public to recognize the signs and symptoms of a stroke. Smith advocates for the BE FAST approach:

  • Balance issues, dizziness, and nausea/vomiting
  • Eyesight changes like blurred or double vision
  • Facial drooping or muscle weakness, particularly on one side of the face
  • Arm or leg weakness or numbness on one side of the body
  • Speech difficulties such as slurred speech or trouble finding words
  • Time to call 911 immediately upon experiencing these symptoms

Meritus Medical Center, certified as a Primary Stroke Center since 2007, emphasizes swift action in stroke cases. Timely intervention is paramount to minimize brain damage.

The more time between the onset of symptoms and treatment is more parts of the brain that could die.

“It’s like they say, ‘Time is brain,’” Smith said.

To learn more about stroke and stroke prevention, visit

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