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Doctors spread life-saving stroke prevention tips at Metro station

Friday - 5/30/2014, 4:46pm  ET

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Dr Kathleen Burger ( right ) offers guidance on stroke prevention during a free stroke screening event near Foggy Bottom Metro station Thursday. George Washington University Hospital sponsored the event. (WTOP/Paula Wolfson)

WASHINGTON - Riders entering and exiting a Downtown Metro stop got something extra with their Friday morning commute -- a lesson in how to save a life.

In a tent next to the Foggy Bottom station, doctors and specially trained nurses from George Washington University Hospital offered free stroke screenings and advice on prevention.

"Instead of being on the receiving end of stroke patients coming to the hospital, we sit down and try to teach them how to prevent that stroke from happening in the first place," says Dr. Kathleen Burger, director of cerebrovascular neurology at GW.

The cornerstone of prevention is a healthy lifestyle. Many doctors recommend a diet low in salt, sugar and saturated fat, such as the DASH eating plan endorsed by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. When it comes to exercise, Burger points patients to the guidelines set by the American Heart Association, which call for 30 minutes of activity a day, five day a week.

Burger says it is perfectly acceptable to implement a series of small changes over time.

"We don't need people to run marathons and we don't need them to get to a size two," she says, "we just need them to make small changes and reduce the risk of stroke."

But reducing the risk is only part of the picture. Stroke awareness also means knowing the signs and symptoms of this malady, which affects 780,000 Americans every year and is the third-leading cause of death nationwide, according to the American Stroke Association.

Burger says to remember the word FAST.

"F" stands for a drooping face. "A" stands for difficulty lifting an arm. "S" stands for slurred speech or an inability to talk. And "T" means it's time to act and call 911.

"These things are painless and you won't feel sick. But if you just realize these things are warning signs of a stroke, you can get help quickly," says Burger who notes that stroke victims come in all shapes and sizes, and no one is immune.

She says everyone should learn the symptoms so they can be prepared to not only save themselves, but to know when to seek help for others.

'We occasionally see strokes in the healthiest of patients," says Burger, "and so it is really important to know those warning signs and just be aware that if you need help, call 911."

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