Have Diabetes? It’s Time to Become Stroke-Smart

By Andre Bierzynski

May is American Stroke Month, and it’s a perfect time to discover a few things about your health that could help you avoid problems that might be sneaking up on you. If you happen to have diabetes, this is actually especially urgent.

According to the American Stroke Association, “having diabetes more than doubles your risk of stroke. Every two minutes, an adult with diabetes in the U.S. is hospitalized for stroke.” It’s tempting to dismiss these stats and say, “Oh, it’ll never happen to me.” But, unfortunately, can.

You can lower the odds of becoming one of those statistics. Here are three tips to help you become smarter about stroke.

Step 1: Learn to quickly identify the symptoms of a stroke. There’s a handy acronym health care professionals suggest to remember four key warning signs of a stroke: FAST — which stands for Face, Arms, Speech and Time. Here’s how the National Stroke Association describes the warning signs. They might be easier to spot in someone else, but they apply to you, too:

  • 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 phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
  • TIME: If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Here are more warning signs, from the American Diabetes Association:

  • weakness or numbness on one side of the body
  • sudden confusion or trouble understanding
  • trouble talking
  • dizziness, loss of balance, or trouble walking
  • trouble seeing out of one or both eyes
  • double vision
  • severe headache

Step 2: Reduce your risk factors! Some of the steps for managing diabetes overlap with what doctors recommend for lowering your risk of stroke.

  • Manage your blood sugar levels. You’re probably already doing this as a person living with diabetes, but it’s extra important if you have other stroke risk factors.
  • Manage your weight. Being overweight — especially having a lot of your fat concentrated around your waist — increases both your odds of having a stroke as well as of developing or exacerbating Type 2 diabetes.
  • Manage your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. This must be done in collaboration with your health care provider, and may involve a combination of medication and lifestyle adjustments.
  • Manage your health. It’s your body. You can’t change some built-in risk factors, like age or race, but you can give your body the right rest, exercise and nutrition to help it prevent or heal from diabetes and stroke. (One more thing: If you smoke, stop!)

Step 3: Set measurable prevention goals and keep a health journal. It’s hard to improve what we don’t track. Here are some examples suggested by Harvard Medical School:

  • Keep your blood pressure below 135/85 if possible. And learn how to take your blood-pressure readings at home. It’s easy, with a little practice and guidance from your medical team!
  • Keep the salt in your diet below 1,500 milligrams a day (about a half teaspoon).
  • Keep your diet on track, aiming for four to five cups of fruits and vegetables daily, and a serving of fish two to three times a week. Jot how many calories you consume each day in your health journal, with a healthy target of 1,500 to 2,000 calories a day.
  • Keep moving, with at least 30 minutes of activity a day. Be sure to consult with your doctor on an appropriate exercise plan that’s right for you.
  • Keep it together! Learning to reduce and manage your stress can improve your heart rate and blood pressure, and boost your quality of life.

Just because May is American Stroke Month, that doesn’t mean you have to wait all year to focus on the important connection between diabetes and stroke. Whatever month you might find yourself in, give yourself some love and discover your path to becoming stroke-smart.

Learn more at and check out the Let’s Be Well Diabetes Box, co-created by AARP and the American Diabetes Association.

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