Know the Facts about Stroke

By: Tashfin Huq, MD, Board Certified and Fellowship Trained Neurologist

May is National Stroke Awareness Month. It is important to know the facts about Stroke. While Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S., it is also the principal cause of disability in adults. The disability resulting from Stroke can be reduced by lowering response time, knowing warning signs and changing lifestyle.

Time is on your side.

With any type of stroke, immediate medical attention is critical to a good outcome. Stroke happens in the brain—not the heart—when the blood flow to the brain is interrupted.

A TIA (transient ischemic attack) results when blood flow to the brain is temporarily obstructed. It is often known as Mini Stroke, though this description can be misleading, and prevent patients from seeking care within the critical time window. Oftentimes, people don't realize that they've suffered a TIA and may ignore telltale signs, such as momentary weakness or numbness in the arm or leg, slurred speech or impaired vision.

Ischemic strokes, which account for about 87% of all strokes, happens when a clot interrupts blood flow to the brain. On most occasions, the clot does not spontaneously dissolve without such treatments as tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) or a minimally invasive procedure to remove the clot.

Clot-busting drugs, such as tPA and TNK, can reverse, alleviate or eliminate symptoms if given within 4.5 hours of stroke symptom onset. Timely access to emergency care is paramount as patient outcomes for recovery are highest within the 60-minute, door-to-needle time—i.e., receiving tPA within 60 minutes of arriving at the hospital.

Second broad category of stroke, which can be quite serious and life-threatening, is hemorrhagic stroke, which results when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures and spills blood into surrounding brain tissue. It often requires surgery to stop the bleeding and lower pressure surrounding the brain.

Know the warning signs.

The American Stroke Association uses the acronym F.A.S.T. to help people recognize common warning signs of a stroke.

  • F — Face drooping. Numbness or drooping on one side of the face droops or an uneven smile often indicates a stroke.
  • A — Arm weakness. When one arm is weak or numb, try to raise both arms. If one drifts downward, you may be having a stroke.
  • S — Speech difficulty. Slurred speech is often a first warning sign.
  • T — Time to call 911. Don't wait for symptoms to go away.

Other signs such as sudden impaired vision and balance have led to altering the familiar acronym to BE FAST. Watch for:

  • B — Balance. Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination can also cause for concern.
  • E — Eyesight. Blurred eyesight or a vision blackout in one or both eyes, even if only temporary, indicates an emergency.

Decrease the risks of stroke.

As much as 80% of all strokes are preventable. While you have no control over certain risk factors such as genetics, age or family history, you can lower the chances of suffering from a stroke with making changes to your lifestyle.

Recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) include the following:

  • Healthy diet — Eat a diet high in fiber, fresh fruits and vegetables, and low in sodium, saturated and Trans fats.
  • Healthy weight — Being overweight or obese increases the risk of stroke.
  • Stay active — Physical activity helps balance your weight and lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Aim for at least 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity per week.
  • Don't smoke — Cigarettes greatly increase the chance of having a stroke.
  • Limit alcohol use — Excessive alcohol consumption can increase blood pressure. A general guide is no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink for women.

Stroke safety involves taking preventative measures to reduce risk of stroke, recognizing the warning signs of stroke and seeking immediate medical attention in the event of a stroke. By adopting a healthy lifestyle, managing medical conditions and staying informed about stroke prevention and treatment, you can improve your chances of avoiding the devastating effects of stroke.

For more information contact Thibodaux Regional Neurology Clinic, 985.493.3090.