Health

As California's stroke death rate climbs, here's how to spot the signs of stroke

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The rate of death from strokes in California started going up from 2013 to 2015 after declining for more than a decade, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Golden State is not alone in this trend: Declines in the stroke death rate stalled in three out of every four states, the report finds.

It's unclear why the rate of death from stroke stopped improving, but the report suggests it could be due to increases in the prevalence of obesity, diabetes and unhealthy diets and a lack of physical activity, all of which are risk factors for stroke.

"Obesity is recognized as a major cause of hypertension, which is the single most important modifiable risk factor for stroke," the report says. "Despite recent improvements, nearly half of the 75 million U.S. adults with hypertension do not have their blood pressure under control."

Latinos fared worse than the general population: Their death rate from stroke increased almost 6 percent each year from 2013 to 2015, after declining by more than 3 percent each year between 2000 and 2013. 

Latinos are the only ethnic or racial group that saw its stroke death rate start to increase.

"Stroke in Hispanics has remained and will continue to be a major challenge," said Dr. David Liebeskind, associate neurology director of the UCLA Stroke Center. "I think that there's a lot of work to be done in terms of every step of care from prevention through effective treatments."

More than 800,000 people in the U.S. have a stroke each year, and more than 140,000 of them die, according to the CDC. An estimated 80 percent of strokes are preventable, it says.

The CDC says it's critical to prevent stroke risk factors and recognize the early signs of stroke. It says stroke symptoms tend to occur suddenly and include onset of weakness or numbness on one side of the body, confusion, trouble speaking or understanding, trouble seeing in one or both eyes, trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or a sudden severe headache.

The agency promotes the acronym F.A.S.T. to help people identify signs of stroke in themselves or others:

The CDC report was based on an analysis of 2000-2015 death data from the U.S. National Vital Statistics System. Researchers looked at cases where stroke was reported as the underlying cause of death.

By focusing on the stroke death rate, the report obscures another crucial issue, said Liebeskind.

"The biggest problem of stroke is actually not death or mortality," he said. "The greatest problem with stroke is clearly disability."