Monday, May 13, 2013

Stroke: When Time is not on Your Side

     Stephanie Dias was 57-years old when she suffered an ischemic stroke while at work. She knew something was wrong when she took a sip of water and it ran down her front—and when she couldn't push herself up in the chair with her leg. When a co-worker spotted Stephanie and saw her blank stare, she and other co-workers decided to call 911.

     Each year, more than 600 patients arrive at Meritus Medical Center’s emergency department with signs and symptoms of stroke. Stephanie was one of the lucky patients. Her fast-thinking co-workers got her to the hospital’s emergency department quickly, and soon after, Stephanie was diagnosed with an ischemic stroke and given tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), a clot-busting drug.

Brain attack
     Stroke occurs when a blockage or burst blood vessel interrupts blood flow to the brain. Minutes after, brain cells begin to die because they lack oxygen and nutrients. That’s why stroke victims need immediate medical evaluation, and when possible, the administration of tPA—but it must be given within three hours from the start of stroke symptoms.

“Sudden” is the telltale sign of stroke
     On the positive side, stroke is largely a preventable, treatable and beatable disease. On the negative side, the American Stroke Association says that less than a third of people in the U.S. can name more than one warning sign of stroke. A lack of knowledge or misinterpretation of stroke signs can mean a delay in getting to the hospital, and a greater chance of serious brain damage.

     “Sudden” is the telltale sign of stroke. People suffering a stroke suddenly have trouble walking (loss of balance), seeing (blurred or blackened vision in one or both eyes) or speaking (slurred speech, inability to speak or confusion). Other signs of stroke include weakness on one side of the body and an unexplained sudden and severe headache.

If you think someone is having a stroke, you simply need to act F.A.S.T.
Face. Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
Arms. Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
Speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Are the words slurred?
Time. If the person shows any of these symptoms, call 911. Make note of when the first symptoms appeared and tell EMS personnel once they arrive.

     If you have a hard time committing F.A.S.T. to memory, you can download a free mobile application to your smart phone (iPhone or Android) by going to Remember, even if symptoms seem to go away, doctors warn that you should go to the hospital not more than one hour from when your symptoms first appeared.

Lower your risk
     Unfortunately, as we age, we begin to have risk factors for stroke, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol. An unhealthy lifestyle, particularly smoking, high blood pressure and poorly-controlled diabetes, speeds up blood vessel damage that contributes to stroke. For area residents, stroke risk is high. The 2012 Meritus Health Community Health Needs Assessment indicated that almost half of 55-64 year olds and almost two-thirds of people over the age of 65 were told they have high blood pressure, and half were told to reduce their cholesterol. If you have the following conditions, talk to your healthcare provider about how to effectively manage your risk factors.

High blood pressure
High cholesterol
Sedentary lifestyle
Smoking/nicotine use
Alcohol abuse or illicit drug use
Heart disease
Atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat)
Estrogen or birth control pill use, especially when combined with smoking

     May is Stroke Awareness Month. Raise awareness and fight stroke by making sure you know the signs. And remember, the combination of diet and exercise goes a long way in reducing your chance for stroke.

By: Anne Gill

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