May is National Stroke Awareness Month, an opportunity to talk about stroke symptoms, the rapid response necessary to minimize injury and disability, and steps we can all take to lower our risk of stroke. Every 45 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke. Each year, about 795,000 people experience a new or recurrent stroke, approximately 610,000 of these are first attacks. While stroke is a leading cause of serious long-term disability in the U.S., the risk of permanent brain injury and disability decreases if a stroke patient can quickly get to a hospital that can perform clot-dissolving and clot-removing therapies.
What is a stroke?
A stroke can happen anytime, and can affect people who otherwise seem completely healthy, even children. When blood flow to a part of the brain is cut off, a stroke occurs. Obstruction is the most common cause. When this happens, the brain cells are deprived of vital oxygen and they start to die. Because brain cells cannot be replaced, the abilities that are controlled by that portion of the brain are often lost.
Recognizing signs of stroke
Mercy Medical Center is a primary stroke center with an in-patient rehabilitation center, with physical, occupational and speech therapy offered in the rehab center, out-patient or at home. The stroke program sees nearly 600 people each year. Maria Griffin, CNP, Stroke Coordinator for Mercy, said that recognizing the signs of stroke can save your life. The symptoms include:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg (especially on one side of the body)
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause
If you are concerned that someone might be suffering a stroke, the word FAST can help you remember the signs of a stroke:
- Face: Does the face look uneven? Ask the person to smile.
- Arm: Does one arm drift down? Ask the person to raise both arms.
- Speech: Does their speech sound strange? Ask the person to repeat a phrase.
- Time: Every second, brain cells die. Call 911 at any sign of stroke.
Time is Brain!
Maria stresses that if you or someone you are with is experiencing stroke symptoms, do not hesitate, call 911 immediately. “Don’t wait to see if symptoms will go away. Don’t try to sleep it off. And, don’t try to drive yourself to the hospital, you’ll get the attention you need if you arrive by ambulance.” En route to the hospital, paramedics can alert doctors to the patient’s condition, meaning that they are more quickly ready to administer the necessary care.
Depending on the magnitude of the stroke and how quickly you receive treatment, the effects can range from minor weakness of a limb to paralysis on one side of the body or death. A clot-busting medication known as tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) is most effective at limiting stroke damage the earlier it is given to the patient.
“One of the biggest issues we see is delaying care,” Maria said. “Patients don’t get here in time to get tPA, the clot-busting drug that can drastically reduce the amount of damage of strokes. It’s very time dependent and can only be offered up to 4 ½ hours after the onset of stroke symptoms for eligible patients. Don’t miss that window because after the first few hours, the brain injury is irreversible.” She said that many people don’t realize that a quarter of all strokes occur during sleep. “If you wake up to symptoms, it’s probably already too late for tPA.”
Reduce Your Risk of Stroke
There are lifestyle changes which you can make to reduce your chance for a stroke:
- Exercise every day
- Eat healthy
- Quit smoking
- Control your blood pressure
- Treat diabetes
- Reduce sodium
- Visit your doctor regularly
For more information, visit Mercy Stroke Center. Mercy Stroke Center is accredited by The Joint Commission for Primary Stroke Centers and received the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association’s Get with the Guidelines (GWTG) Stroke Gold Plus Performance Achievement Award.