May is here, bringing the vibrant blooms of spring and a vital reminder: it’s National Stroke Awareness Month in the United States (a.k.a. American Stroke Month). Strokes are one of the leading causes of death in the US and a major cause for adult disability which is why there’s a month devoted to educating the public about the symptoms of strokes to encourage the quickest response possible. 

In addition to learning the symptoms so one can act quickly when a stroke is suspected, it’s imperative to recognize the role clean air plays in stroke prevention and overall well-being.


Know the Signs, B.E. – F.A.S.T.

When a person has a stroke, it means that there is a disruption in the blood supply to the brain, either due to a blockage in the blood vessels (ischemic stroke) or bleeding in the brain (hemorrhagic stroke). This interruption deprives the brain of oxygen and nutrients, causing brain cells to begin dying within minutes. 

You can also think of it as a “brain attack,” because similar to a heart attack, there has been a sudden cut in blood supply.1 Heart function is a key topic when discussing strokes because although they impact the brain, strokes are connected to the cardiovascular system.

Time is of the essence with almost any medical emergency but it’s particularly important with strokes in order to preserve brain function and prevent long-term disability or death. The longer blood flow is restricted, the more extensive the damage to the brain tissue becomes. Prompt treatment can help minimize the effects of a stroke and improve the chances of recovery.

Treatments such as clot-busting medications or procedures to remove blockages are most effective when initiated as soon as possible after the onset of symptoms. Recognizing the signs of a stroke and acting fast by calling emergency services can make a significant difference in the outcome and quality of life for someone experiencing a stroke.

The acronym F.A.S.T. (Face [drooping], Arm [weakness], Speech [difficulty], and Time [to call an ambulance]) was introduced in a British public health campaign to encourage people to seek treatment quickly after the appearance of any of those symptoms.23 The campaign was a success, with people receiving emergency treatment sooner and it spread to other English-speaking countries.4

Over the years, multiple stroke experts have revised the mnemonic to include two more symptoms that are common indicators of stroke: balance and vision.5 One version, B.E. – F.A.S.T., was published in Stroke, a journal published by the American Heart Association in 2017.6

Balance: Some stroke victims have trouble balancing or difficulty walking, or lose balance. Feeling dizzy, being unable to stand without aid, or falling can all be symptoms of a stroke.

Eyes: Sudden changes in vision can be a sign of stroke including partial loss in one/both eyes, double vision, or total vision loss in one eye.

Face: Is one side of the face drooping or numb? Ask the person to smile to check. Does their smile appear uneven?

Arms: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms for 10 seconds. Does one arm drift downward? This can be a sign of a stroke.

Speech: Is the person unable to speak or difficult to understand? Ask them to repeat a simple sentence like, “Grass is green.” Someone having a stroke might not be able to understand you or you may struggle understanding them.

Time: Don’t risk any delay – if you observe any of these signs, even if they go away, call emergency services immediately.

Stroke symptoms can vary, and another indicator is a sudden severe headache with no known cause.

It is so important to act fast that experts beg the public to call for help if someone is slightly suspected of having a stroke, without worry over error. If you’re reluctant to call 911 as a witness, you can withhold your name or other identifying information to remain anonymous.

When calling emergency services for a suspected stroke make sure to tell the operator that you suspect a stroke and what symptoms you’ve observed. It’s also extremely helpful if you can remember when the symptoms started. For example: “I’m worried my father is having a stroke, his face is drooping to one side and he’s having trouble speaking. This started 10 minutes ago.”


Infographic about the signs of a stroke and the acronym B.E. F.A.S.T. to educate people on when to call 911. The text at the top says: “Recognize stroke warning signs with B.E. F.A.S.T., call 911 immediately. Balance: Sudden loss of coordination or balance (with a graphic of someone with their arms out, and one foot in front of the other balancing), Eyes: Quick loss of vision in one/both eyes or double vision (with a graphic of an eye), Face: Is the face drooping or numb? Does their smile appear uneven? (with a graphic showing a head), Arms: Is one arm weak or numb? (with a graphic showing an arm and an arrow pointing down), Speech: Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? (with a graphic of a head in profile and sound waves coming from their mouth), Time: Call emergency services immediately! (and a graphic of a clock).” It ends with the text at the bottom reading: “Don’t risk any delay – if you observe any of these signs, even if they go away, call 911!”

The Role of Clean Air in Stroke Prevention

There are many factors that contribute to strokes. Genetics and lifestyle choices pertaining to diet and exercise significantly influence stroke risk. In recent years, environmental factors such as air pollution have been gaining attention for their impact. Studies have linked air pollution, particularly fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), to an increased risk of stroke.7891011121314

Particulate matter, tiny particles suspended in the air, can enter the bloodstream through the lungs, contributing to inflammation and cardiovascular problems. Nitrogen dioxide, primarily emitted from vehicles and industrial sources, can exacerbate respiratory conditions and lead to cardiovascular diseases, including stroke. 

Other air pollutants such as carbon monoxide (CO), and sulfur dioxide (SO2) have also been implicated in cardiovascular and cerebrovascular health risks. While the specific mechanisms through which these pollutants affect stroke occurrence may vary, their combined impact underscores the importance of addressing air quality to reduce the likelihood of stroke and other related diseases.

Overall, the evidence suggests that reducing exposure to airborne pollutants can help mitigate the risk of stroke and improve overall cardiovascular health. While it’s important for there to be limits on emissions from transportation, industry, and other sources; at the individual level you can protect yourself and your family with added air purification in the home from Austin Air


Austin Air Cleaners and Cardiovascular Health

A 2022 study conducted at Johns Hopkins University using Austin Air cleaners was able to demonstrate that reducing exposure to indoor air pollution improves heart function among former smokers with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD).15
The results of this research also have implications for the general population.

One of the metrics examined was heart rate variability (HRV) – the variation in time between heartbeats, which changes according to your activities or stress level. Studies have shown that decreased HRV is part of aging and also connected to a higher risk of cardiovascular conditions like heart attack, heart failure, and stroke. In this study, decreased HRV was associated with higher concentrations of PM. 

In all, the study demonstrated a “strong association between household air pollution and cardiac autonomic function as measured by HRV….” as well as showing “an intervention to improve indoor air quality has the potential to improve cardiac morbidity, in addition to respiratory health, for patients living with COPD…”

More research is needed to further establish the role of air cleaners in improving cardiovascular health but these preliminary results prove that Austin Air cleaners specifically can have a positive impact on health outcomes.


Additional Steps to Prevent a Stroke

As mentioned, strokes impact the brain but they are deeply connected to the cardiovascular system. High blood pressure (hypertension) is a leading risk factor for stroke. Monitor blood pressure regularly and follow medical advice to keep it within a healthy range through exercise, lifestyle modifications, medication, and stress management techniques. 

As with most health matters, diet and exercise are extremely important in stroke prevention. Focus on eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins while limiting saturated fats, sodium, and added sugars. Regular low-impact exercise, such as brisk walking, swimming, or cycling, can improve cardiovascular health and lower blood pressure, with the added bonus of helping you maintain a healthy weight.

Some additional steps to preventing stroke include:

Control Diabetes: Diabetes is a significant risk factor for stroke as it can damage blood vessels and lead to complications such as atherosclerosis and hypertension. Maintain blood sugar levels within a healthy range through diet, exercise, medication, and regular monitoring.

Avoid Tobacco: Smoking is one of the worst things you can do to endanger your health. It damages blood vessels and increases stroke risk.

Limit Alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption can elevate blood pressure and increase the risk of heart rhythm disturbances, all of which are risk factors for stroke. Limit alcohol intake to moderate levels, the generally accepted advice is one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.


As we observe National Stroke Awareness Month this May, let’s not only educate ourselves about stroke recognition and prevention but also recognize the interconnectedness between environmental health and personal well-being. By advocating for clean air and adopting healthy lifestyle choices, we can strive towards a future where strokes are less prevalent, and communities thrive in a pollution-free environment. Remember, when it comes to strokes, acting fast can make all the difference.


Infographic on a navy blue background with (mostly) white text: “Stroke prevention measures (“stroke prevention” looks like red neon and is next to a graphic of a head in profile showing a brain with a red spot): Blood pressure management (with a graphic of a blood pressure gauge), Maintain a healthy diet (with a graphic of a salad bowl), stay consistent with exercise (with a graphic of a barbell), control/monitor diabetes (with a graphic of a hand testing their insulin using a finger prick), avoid the use of tobacco (with a graphic of a no-smoking signs), limit alcohol consumption (with a graphic of a gauge, pointing toward the lower end of the spectrum), and use an Austin Air purifier (with a graphic showing a white Austin Air cleaner).



1 Stroke. (2023 November 28). National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

2 Flynn D, Ford GA, Rodgers H, Price C, et al. (2014 August 13). A time series evaluation of the FAST National Stroke Awareness Campaign in England. PLoS One. 9(8):e104289. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0104289.

3 Stroke Symptoms and Warning Signs. (n.d.). American Stroke Association, a Division of the American Heart Association.

4 Wall HK, Beagan BM, O’Neill J, Foell KM, Boddie-Willis CL. (2008 April 5). Addressing stroke signs and symptoms through public education: the Stroke Heroes Act FAST campaign. Prev Chronic Dis. (2):A49. PMID: 18341784; PMCID: PMC2396980.

5 Stroke Symptoms: From FAST to FASTER. (2016, May 12). Corewell Health.

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9 What we think about: Air pollution. (2019). Stroke Association.

10 Verhoeven JI, Allach Y, Vaartjes I, Klijn CJ, & De Leeuw F. (2021 August 1). Ambient air pollution and the risk of ischaemic and haemorrhagic stroke. The Lancet. Planetary Health. (5)8,E542-E552. doi: 10.1016/s2542-5196(21)00145-5.

11 Li L, Huang S, Tian Y, et al. (2022 July 1). Short-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide and ischemic stroke incidence in Shenzhen, China: Modification effects by season and temperature. Ecotoxicology and Envi Safety. 239,113644. doi: 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2022.113644.

12 Kulick ER, Kaufman JD, & Sack C. (2022 December 29). Ambient Air Pollution and Stroke: An Updated Review. Stroke. 54:882–893. doi: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.122.035498

13 Toubasi A, & Al-Sayegh TN. (2023 November 7). Short-term Exposure to Air Pollution and Ischemic Stroke: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Neurology: (101)19.e1922-e1932. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000207856.

14 Qian Y, Cai R, Su X, et al. (2023 December 22). Residential Nitrogen Dioxide Exposure and Cause-Specific Cerebrovascular Mortality: An Individual-Level, Case-Crossover Study. Toxics. 12(1):10. doi: 10.3390/toxics12010010.

15 Raju S, Woo H, Koehler K, et al. (2023 March 15). Indoor Air Pollution and Impaired Cardiac Autonomic Function in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Amer Jour of Resp and Crit Care Med. 207(6). doi: 10.1164/rccm.202203-0523oc.