Stroke is a leading cause of disability in adults and the fourth leading cause of death. Eighty percent of strokes are preventable through the management of risk factors. When a stroke occurs, quick recognition and treatment can give you or a loved one the best chance of a full recovery.
A cerebrovascular accident, (CVA) stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery that supplies blood flow to the brain or when a blood vessel breaks interrupting the flow of blood to an area of the brain.
"Time is brain" because lack of blood flow causes brain cells to die and brain damage can occur.
Disabilities caused by a stroke range from weakness and loss of coordination in the arms and legs to impaired speech, dizziness, memory problems and depression.
Fast use of clot-busting medication to treat a stroke resulting from a blood clot can restore blood flow to minimize permanent disability.
You can shorten the time from detection to treatment by recognizing strokes symptoms and calling 911 immediately so paramedics can alert the nearest primary stroke center. This allows physicians and nurses to get ready to treat you quickly.
Primary stroke centers are hospitals that earn accreditation through intensive evaluations and work continuously to improve their efficiency and effectiveness in treating strokes.
Use the FAST test if you suspect someone is having a stroke (if alone, use a mirror):
F - Face: Ask the person to smile. Is the smile uneven? Does one side of the face droop?
A - Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift forward or is one arm weaker than the other?
S - Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase or sentence. Is their speech slurred or strange?
T - Time: If you observe any of these symptoms, call 911 right away! (See above)
Preventing stroke is an even better strategy. Risks you can control include:
Blood pressure - Levels higher than 120/80 can put you at risk.
Cholesterol levels - An LDL of 100 or less is optimal and total cholesterol of less than 200 is desirable.
Tobacco Use - If you smoke, stop. Smoking nearly doubles your risk for stroke.
Weight/diet - Choose a low salt, low fat diet with a balance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and proteins (lean meat, fish, eggs, beans, nuts and low-fat milk).
Exercise - Aim for 30 minutes a day at least five days a week. Always check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.
Diabetes - Manage diabetes closely to avoid complications that could result in a stroke.
TIA (Transient Ischemic Attacks) - TIA symptoms, "mini strokes" are just like a stroke but may come and go. Having a TIA can be a sign that something is wrong. Call your doctor immediately.
Now that you know the basics, talk to your doctor about preventing a stroke and be ready to call 911 if you or a loved one experience stroke symptoms.
Mondell is the Stroke Program coordinator at Susquehanna Health's Williamsport Regional Medical Center, an accredited JCAHO Primary Stroke Center since 2006. She is available for presentations about stroke recognition and prevention.