Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Brain Attack! -- Surviving a Stroke

Did you know that stroke is a leading cause of death in the United States?  It kills nearly 130,000 Americans yearly—one out of every 18 deaths!  That’s why there’s no better time than now, during Brain Awareness Week, to invest three minutes of your day reading an article that can save the life of a friend or family member from the deadly threat of a stroke, the brain’s equivalent of a heart attack. 

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s not likely to happen to someone you know, and right before your eyes. Someone has a stroke every 40 seconds in the United States, and someone dies of stroke every four minutes, according to the CDC.  Even when a stroke doesn't kill its victim, it is a significant source of disability in the U.S.  Strokes are responsible for causing reduced mobility in more than half of stroke survivors age 65 and over.

Emergency Room SignThe good news is that there are simple, easy-to-remember steps you can take to quickly identify when someone is having a stroke.  And “quickly” is the key to survival and improving the victim’s odds of a better outcome: when treatment can be administered within three hours of the brain attack event (the onset of stroke symptoms), the chances of survival and recovery is significantly greater, thanks to a drug known as a tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) given intravenously to those diagnosed with ischemic stroke.  But the American Stroke Association (ASA) tells us that, unfortunately, only one in fifty stroke patients can be helped with tPA, simply because less than three percent of these ischemic stroke victims reach an emergency room in time.


What causes a stroke?


A brain attack, or stroke, is the result of either:
  • a blood clot suddenly blocking the blood supply to the brain (ischemic stroke); or
  • a blood vessel inside the brain bursting (hemorrhagic stroke). 
Ischemic strokes are more common – 80 percent of all brain strokes.  The lodged blood clot kills the part of the brain it blocks in ischemic strokes.  Hemorrhagic strokes result in bleeding inside the brain, which causes swelling, bruising, and, ultimately, brain malfunction.


Primary symptoms of brain stroke – Remember “sudden”


A stroke is usually a surprise - according to the ASA, of the nearly 800,000 annual stroke victims in the United States, about 600,000 are first time or new strokes. A stroke is also a surprise because symptoms often happen suddenly:
  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg—especially on one side of the body.
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
  • 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 see any one of these symptoms, ASA advises that you immediately contact 911. 


Stroke symptom cheat sheet – think F.A.S.T


Let’s face it – most of us have trouble remembering a list of things when it’s more than three or four items.  To make things simple, the ASA has created the acronym F.A.S.T. to focus on the three most significant symptoms, plus the one thing to do when you see them.  F.A.S.T. stands for:
  • Face Drooping – one side of the face droops or is numb.  To check: ask the person to smile.
  • Arm Weakness – one arm is weak or numb.  To check: ask the person to raise both arms and note if one arm drifts downward.
  • Speech Difficulty – speech is slurred, garbled, or the victim is unable to speak, or is hard to understand.  Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like "The sky is blue."  Can they repeat it correctly?
  • Time to call 911 – Do not wait to see if the person shows all of these symptoms.  If they show just one symptom, even if the symptom goes away, call 911 and get them to the hospital immediately.
F.A.S.T. is the easiest way to remember the sudden signs and symptoms of a stroke.  To remember the acronym, study the image below to help you remember:  Face, Arm, Speech, Time to call.



Remember: this is a pass/fail test – any one of the symptoms means it’s time to get medical attention, FAST.  This is important because fast treatment often makes a remarkable difference in recovery.


Is stroke prevention possible?


While you cannot control some stroke risk factors (heredity, age, gender, and ethnicity can all influence likelihood of having a stroke), there are certain medical conditions can raise your stroke risk, most of which you have some measure of control over:
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • A previous stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA)
To reduce your stroke risk, the ASA recommends that you avoid smoking and excessive drinking of alcohol, and that you eat a balanced diet and get exercise.


Stroke Facts


To learn more, see the CDC Stroke Fact Sheet, the CDC Stroke statistics from National Center for Health Statistics, and review the American Stroke Association’s site.  On the ASA site, you’ll find valuable stroke statistics and stroke information, including more on warning signs, more about stroke in general, and guidance on life after a stroke


Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

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