May is National Stroke Awareness Month and everyone should know the signs and symptoms of a stroke and what you should do to help prevent strokes.
A stroke is a medical emergency — do not wait if you or someone you know is having symptoms. Timing is crucial. Brain function is lost with every second you wait.
The warning signs include:
Sudden weakness or numbness in your face, arm or leg. This is usually more prevalent on one side of your body.
Trouble speaking, understanding others or confusion.
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Noticing that you are having trouble seeing out of one or both of your eyes.
Loss of balance, dizziness or a problem walking.
The onset of a severe headache without a reason or illness.
B.E. F.A.S.T. is an easy way to remember stroke symptoms
Balance – Watch for sudden loss of balance
Eyes – Check for vision loss
Face – look for an uneven smile
Arm – Check if one arm is weak
Speech – Listen for slurred speech
Time – Call 911 right away
Call 911 if you have one or more of these symptoms right away! Clot-busting drugs may be given within 3 hours (to 4.5 hours in some cases) of the beginning of these signs. Be sure to record what time the symptoms began and share this information with the medical team. You can avoid long-term disability if the drugs are given in a timely manner.
Ischemic Stroke occurs when the blood flow to an area of the brain is cut off or diminished. Brain cells begin to die causing memory and muscle function to be lost. Nearly 800,000 people annually in the U.S. suffer new or recurring strokes. According to CDC, it “is the fifth-leading cause of death in the U.S.” and “a leading cause of disability in adults.”
There are two types of stroke, hemorrhagic and ischemic. In hemorrhagic stroke – a blood vessel in the brain bursts or has a leak, although less common, it leads to death more often than the ischemic stroke. In an ischemic stroke, a blood vessel is blocked by a clot or plaque – hence the reason for blood-clot relieving drugs. TIA – Transient Ischemic Attack is when the blood flow stops to the brain for a short time but is later restored on its own. This can present with stroke-like symptoms but resolves within 24 hours of onset. TIAs can be recurring and it is always best to be evaluated. Call 911 immediately if you suspect you or someone you know is having a stroke.
Eighty percent of strokes may be preventable and related to a person’s lifestyle. Manageable risk factors include: high blood pressure, Atrial Fibrillation (A-Fib), high cholesterol, Smoking, Diabetes, Poor circulation, lack of physical activity and obesity. Uncontrolled risk factors include: Age – 80% of strokes occur to those 55 or older; Race – African Americans and Hispanics have a higher risk than other races; Gender – every year, more women have stroke than men, and more women die of stroke than from breast cancer; Family history – your chance of stroke increases if someone in your family has experienced a stroke.
Eastern New Mexico Medical Center has partnered with University of New Mexico to provide Teleneurology services to the people of Southeast New Mexico. ENMMC is able to assess neurological problems via telemedicine with a neurologist or neurosurgeon to determine if treatment can be performed right here at ENMMC or if a higher level of care is required. ENMMC is capable of providing the necessary clot-busting drugs used in treatment of stroke when a patient is an appropriate candidate and has arrived to the facility within 3 hours (to 4.5 hours in some cases) of symptom onset. When it comes to stroke, it’s OK to overreact – Call 911.
Orlando Artavia, MD, is a medical doctor for Apogee Physicians of Eastern New Mexico Medical Center. The advice offered in this column is that of the author.