Stroke is the third leading cause of death and the leading cause of serious, long-term disability in the United States, with approximately 795,000 people suffering stroke each year. However, did you know that studies have shown that up to 80 percent of strokes are preventable?
A stroke occurs when a blood clot or broken blood vessel interrupts blood flow to the brain, causing brain cells to die. A transient ischemic attack (TIA), or mini-stroke, happens when blood flow to the brain stops briefly and then resolves. While this generally does not cause permanent damage, a TIA can be a warning sign that a full stroke is coming. Other signs and symptoms of stroke include:
- Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or difficulty understanding speech.
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or lack of coordination.
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
If any of these symptoms are present, it is important to get emergency assistance as soon as possible. Patients should also seek medical attention in the event of a TIA. St. Elizabeth Hospital and Mercy Medical Center have both been named as certified Primary Stroke Centers, a national designation granted to hospitals demonstrating consistent, excellent and advanced care for stroke victims. Knowing the signs and symptoms of a stroke is important; the sooner a stroke is caught, the better your chances are of recovering. If you are with someone who may be suffering a stroke, an easy way to remember what a stroke looks like is to think of the acronym FAST:
- Face – Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
- Arms – Ask the person to raise both arms. Can he/she hold them there, or does one arm drift downward?
- Speech – Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Does the speech sound slurred or is the person having trouble finding the correct words?
- Time – If symptoms are evident, time is an important factor; call 911 immediately.
Some risk factors, such as age, family history, race and gender play a part in likelihood for suffering a stroke, but there are other factors that are a result of behavior. Maintaining a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, monitoring your blood pressure and cholesterol and quitting tobacco use all contribute to overall health and stroke prevention. If you think that you are at a high risk, talk to your provider about taking a medication to prevent stroke. As an emergency and hospital stroke neurologist, I am adamant on people seeking attention for stroke symptoms immediately. If I can be involved in the case early, special measures can be taken to save a life. Don’t wait until it’s too late!