Stroke has fallen from the nation’s fourth leading cause of death to No. 5, according to the latest federal statistics. It is the second such drop in the mortality rankings since 2011.

The mortality report, issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in December, indicates stroke has swapped positions with unintentional injuries. But the margin between the two is slim―1,579 deaths―based on figures from 2013.

American Heart Association (AHA) President Elliott Antman, M.D. called the declining death rate from this devastating disease “gratifying news” and thanked all those committed to fighting stroke―healthcare professionals, stroke survivors and their caregivers, researchers and volunteers.

The stroke fatality rate is still high, dropping less than a percentage point (36.9 to 36.2 percent) between 2012 and 2013. It trails only deaths from heart disease, cancer and chronic lower respiratory diseases, which respectively hold the top three spots.

An increase in the number of hospital-based stroke centers has contributed to proportionally fewer stroke deaths. However, the incidence of stroke is rising due to aging of the U.S. population and the fact that more children and teens are falling victim, perhaps due to climbing obesity and diabetes rates among young people..

Stroke remains a leading cause of disability, with survivors often facing “highly debilitating consequences,” according to AHA CEO Nancy Brown. The AHA has therefore committed to working with survivors to improve rehabilitation and treatment options.

So how do you spot a stroke? There’s an app for that! Built around the F.A.S.T. stroke awareness program developed by the American Stroke Association, it will walk you through the assessment process:

  • F = face drooping: Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is that smile uneven?
  • A = arm weakness: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • S = speech difficulty: Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand?  Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue.” Can he/she do it correctly?
  • T = time to call 911: If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if they go away, call 911 and get the person to the hospital immediately. Check the time so you will know when the first symptoms appeared.

To download the mobile app, go to the Apple iTunes or Google Play store and search for “Spot a Stroke.”

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Lynn Tarkington

Lynn Tarkington, RN, BS, is assistant vice president of Physician and Clinical Services at HealthTrust. She previously served as AVP of the clinical team for SourceTrust. Her background includes 30 years in the healthcare industry, with the focus of her clinical work in cardiovascular diseases. Tarkington previously worked with HCA in the corporate quality department, leading a team of professionals in improving cardiovascular quality across the organization. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public health and is a member of the American College of Cardiology, American Heart Association and the American College of Healthcare Executives. More Articles by This Author »