Panama City -- According to interventional cardiologist Dr. Amir Haghighat, Panhandle residents live in the stroke belt of the country. Northwest Florida has a high incidence of heart disease and stroke. It's a statistic Dr. Haghighat says you can attribute to a number of contributing factors.
"Diet has a lot to do with it. Smoking is prevalent in our community, and it just has a higher prevalence here. We just have to be on the look out to prevent it the best we could."
For some, preventing a stroke could mean making big changes in your life, especially if you're in a high risk category. Those changes include tobacco cessation, cutting down the fat intake in food or watching your blood pressure.
One of the big warning signs of a potentially fatal stroke is what is called a mini-stroke, or a "trans-ischemic attack." Dr. Haghighat says it's characterized by one side of the body becoming numb or weak, perhaps language deficit (where the patient has difficulty finding his words), or even loss of the vision in one eye.
A mini stroke doesn't normally leave any permanent damage, but it is a warning sign that a bigger, more damaging stroke could be on the way.
"If there's a concern you may have had a mini-stroke that resolved, you still need to call your doctor right away, because these tend to predict an increased risk of future strokes. So that's when we want to get involved - before a big stroke happens" says Dr. Haghighat.
When a big stroke does happen - time is brain. The sooner you get help, the better your chances of recovery. Doctors say if there is any concern that you are having a stroke, then you have to call 911 and seek immediate medical attention.
If you are concerned about strokes, ask your doctor for a carotid ultra sound to assess your risk.