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Polk Region Population at Higher Risk of Deadly Stroke

Stroke is a leading cause of death in the United States, including Florida, with an even higher risk in Polk, Hardee and Highlands Counties.

Courtesy AdventHealth

Florida Health Department data shows in 2022, Highlands County had an age-adjusted stroke death rate of about 64 per 100,000 people, compared to Florida's overall rate of 47.6. Similarly, Polk County had a stroke death rate of around 54 per 100,000 people, also higher than the state average. Hardee County had the highest age-adjusted deaths from stroke in the state in 2022, averaging about 100 deaths for every 100,000 people.

"Strokes can happen very quickly and can be devastating, so it's critical to take steps to decrease any risk factors as much as possible," said Dr. Victoria Selley, chief Medical officer of AdventHealth Sebring, Wauchula and Lake Placid. "It's also so important to know the warning signs of a stroke, so you act quickly and potentially help save a life."

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot, bursts or ruptures. When that happens, the brain cannot get the blood and oxygen it needs, so it and brain cells die.

There are many things you can do to help lower your risk including getting your blood lipid level measured, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active and exercising regularly, not smoking and limiting alcohol consumption.

Stroke Risk Increasing in Younger People

May is National Stroke Awareness Month and if you are younger or middle-aged you may feel healthy and believe you are safe from major health events. But research from the American Heart Association shows the rate of stroke has been steadily rising among Americans younger than 49 for the past 30 years, particularly among people living in the South and Midwest regions of the United States.

The findings came from the Global Burden of Disease 2019 study, which is a peer-reviewed, large-scale assessment of global health trends. It also found the stroke rate is declining in adults 75 and older in the U.S.

Graphic courtesy AdventHealth

The most recent data from the Florida Department of Health shows stroke was the 4th leading cause of death in Florida. Since 2010, the number of Floridians who died from stroke has increased. Each year there are approximately 65,000-75,000 hospitalizations from stroke. Stroke is also a leading cause of long-term disability.

"Certain behaviors, family history and Medical conditions can increase your chances of having a stroke," said Jo Ann Ankoviak, chief nursing officer of AdventHealth Heart of Florida in Davenport. "There are some risk factors you cannot change like age, gender, race or ethnicity, your genetics and family history. But there are other risk factors you can change through your lifestyle and working with your health care provider."

Most risk factors for stroke in young adults are similar to those in older adults, like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity. Other risk factors include excessive alcohol use, physical inactivity, smoking and heart disease.

Health experts say you should try to remember the acronym, "BE FAST" to look for symptoms.

B - Balance - Look for loss of balance.

E - Eyes - Check for vision loss.

F - Face - Look for an uneven smile.

A - Arms - Check to see if one arm is weak.

S - Speech- Listen for slurred speech.

T - Time - It is time to CALL 9-1-1, if any of these signs are present.

To learn more about stroke prevention and treatment, you can go to


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