CARY – May is National Stroke Awareness Month and North Carolina residents are urged to know the warning signs of the cardiovascular disease that affects the arteries leading to and within the brain.

Most importantly, North Carolina has the nation’s 10th highest stroke death rate. In 2011, almost 4,300 state residents died of stroke, making it the state’s fourth leading cause of death behind cancer, heart disease and chronic lower respiratory diseases.

According to the American Stroke Association, about 795,000 Americans suffer a new or recurrent stroke each year and almost 20 percent of those result in death, making stroke the nation’s fourth leading cause of death and the leading cause of long-term disability.

In North Carolina, stroke has significant geographic, gender and racial disparities. The eastern counties of the state are part of the "Stroke Belt" and "Stroke Buckle," which are regions of the country known for having an unusually high prevalence of cardiovascular diseases. The Stroke Buckle has a stroke incidence rate that is nearly twice as high as the national average.

“Most people who have high blood pressure have no signs or symptoms, which makes it such a deadly risk factor for cardiovascular diseases such as stroke,” said Melinda Postal, director of communications at The Carolinas Center for Medical Excellence, a statewide organization based in Cary.

This year’s statewide heart disease and stroke prevention campaign emphasizes the importance of knowing the signs and symptoms of stroke and taking quick action. If you or someone near you experiences any of the following symptoms, call 911:

• Sudden severe headache with no known cause

• Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or trouble understanding

• Sudden blurred vision

• Sudden dizziness or loss of balance

• Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg – especially on one side of the body

To get additional information, visit www.startwithyourheart.com, the National Stroke Association at www.stroke.org, the American Stroke Association at www.strokeassociation.org, or CCME at www.thecarolinascenter.org.