GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — May is National Stroke Awareness Month. Experts say more than 800,000 people suffer from the disease every year nationwide.

“It’s the fifth leading cause of death in the United States and the fourth in the North Carolina,” said Dr. Shailesh Male, the stroke medical director for ECU Health.

Male said North Carolina is in what experts call the “stroke belt” because the emergencies are so prevalent.

“Just to put it into perspective, the rates of strokes are typically about 75 to 80 people per 100,000 in the population,” Male said. “In North Carolina, they’re close to 85 to 90, and in some of our counties in eastern North Carolina, those rates are in triple digits, like 110 per 100,000.”

He said this can be attributed to many different factors, like higher rates of cholesterol and diabetes, as well as higher smoking rates.

Just this week, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein is recovering from a stroke.

“It is important to understand that stroke doesn’t respect any boundaries, age or sex,” he added. “A stroke could affect anyone.”

The month of May is a good time for North Carolinians to learn the symptoms of a stroke. Male said to remember the acronym, “Be Fast.”

  • B for loss of balance
  • E for eye vision
  • F for facial symptoms
  • A for arm weakness
  • S for slurred speech
  • T for time is crucial

“The most important thing to be aware of stroke is time,” he added. “I can’t stress the importance of calling 911 immediately.”

Because in a stroke situation, minutes can make a difference.

“It does cause lots of physical and mental challenges for the patient and the families,” he added. “That would make world of difference for someone.”