Time is brain when it comes to treating stroke

By Dr. Charlie Abramson and Jennifer McPherson, RN

Stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death and disability in the United States, and second leading cause of death and disability worldwide, according to the American Heart Association.

When signs and symptoms of stroke are first recognized, every minute counts as immediate action and treatment can aid in preventing brain damage, long-term disability and even death.

Stroke is an attack on the brain affecting the arteries leading to and within the brain. It occurs when one of these arteries is blocked or bursts. Ischemic strokes, more commonly referred to as blocked arteries, represents 87 percent of all strokes. Hemorrhagic strokes occur when an artery is ruptured, leading to bleeding in the brain. The disruption in blood flow, either ischemic or hemorrhagic, prevents the brain from receiving necessary oxygenated blood.

Symptoms of an ischemic stroke coincide with the area of brain that is disconnected from proper blood flow. Recognizing stroke symptoms utilizing the BEFAST (balance, eyes, face, arms, speech, time) acronym is key to early detection and activation of emergency services. Look for lack of coordination or difficulty walking, complaints of blurry vision or visual changes in one or both eyes represent eye symptoms, drooping to one side of the face with inability to smile evenly represents facial symptoms. Other symptoms include weakness to arms and legs, usually involving only one side, slurred speech or difficulty forming words. If any of these symptoms occur suddenly and are not normal for someone, stroke is indicated and emergency medical care is imperative. Remember, time is brain. Act quickly and call 911 immediately. (In addition to ischemic stroke symptoms, a sudden, unexplained, severe headache could be indicative of a brain bleed. This headache is usually characterized as the worst headache of one’s life.)
Knowing your risk factors and discussing these with your primary care provider is necessary to decrease your risk of a debilitating stroke. Uncontrolled risk factors for stroke include age, race, gender and family history. One out of five people under the age of 55 has a stroke, and this statistic increases with age. African Americans, Asian and Hispanic populations have an increased risk for stroke. More women than men die from stroke, and more women die from stroke than from breast cancer every year. One in four stroke survivors are at risk for a second stroke, but with proper management, 80 percent of these recurrences are preventable. Controllable risk factors include high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, poor circulation, lack of physical activity and obesity.
It’s imperative that emergent care be taken when someone is presenting with signs and symptoms of a stroke. If you suspect a stroke bring your loved one to the emergency room at Valley View at first sign.