Ask The Expert: Stroke warning signs

Ask The Expert: Stroke warning signs

(KUTV) May is National Stroke Awareness month in the United States. Each year in the U.S., there are more than 795,000 strokes. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the country. And stroke causes more serious long-term disabilities than any other disease. Nearly three-quarters of all strokes occur in people over the age of 65 and the risk of having a stroke more than doubles each decade after the age of 55.

If you’re having a stroke, it’s critical that you get medical attention right away. Immediate treatment may minimize the long-term effects of a stroke and even prevent death. Thanks to recent medical advances, stroke treatments and survival rates have improved greatly over the last decade.

Every stroke is a medical emergency because it means that blood flow to part of the brain has been interrupted. Everyone needs to be able to recognize the signs of a stroke and get to a hospital fast because "time is brain." The longer you wait, the more brain cells could die. Strokes are the fifth leading cause of death in America and a leading cause of adult disability.

Surprisingly, many people fail to act on a warning signal that a major stroke is in progress or may be on the way. It's called a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or "mini stroke". The symptoms of stroke and TIA are similar except for one important thing: TIAs go away on their own, tempting many people to avoid a trip to the ER.

Strokes occur when blood flow to an area of brain is cut off. When this happens, brain cells are deprived of oxygen and begin to die. This may sound similar to a heart attack. Sudden bleeding in the brain can also cause a stroke if it damages brain cells. If brain cells die or are damaged because of a stroke, symptoms occur in the parts of the body that these brain cells control.

1. Strokes kill more than 130,000 Americans each year—that’s 1 out of every 20 deaths.

2. Someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds. Every 4 minutes, someone dies of stroke.

3. Every year, more than 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke. About 610,000 of these are first or new strokes.

4. Stroke is a leading cause of serious long-term disability. Stroke reduces mobility in more than half of stroke survivors age 65 and over.

5. About 87 percent of all strokes are ischemic strokes, in which blood flow to the brain is blocked.

Despite advances in health technology and access to care, strokes are still a major medical concern and education to the public is key to ensure those with symptoms or risks seek immediate medical treatment.

Speed of treatment is key to saving brain cells – and your life. Getting the right care is also equally important.

> The Intermountain Medical Center Neurosciences Institute in Murray has been certified by the Joint Commission as a Comprehensive Stroke Center, which means the hospital has demonstrated an exemplary ability to use evidence-based clinical processes to provide the optimal care and outcomes for stroke patients.

Out of nearly 5,700 hospitals in the United States, only 100 of them are accredited by the Joint Commission as Certified Comprehensive Stroke Centers.

Intermountain Medical Center is the only hospital in Utah and the Intermountain West to earn the designation from the Joint Commission. Last year, Intermountain Medical Center Neurosciences Institute treated 901 stroke patients, more than any other hospital in the state of Utah.

Intermountain Medical Center's "door-to-needle time" for stroke patients — or the amount of time it takes to give eligible stroke patients an intravenous dose of the complex protein tPA to break down potentially harmful blood clots in the brain — is 38 minutes – 37 percent better than the recommended national target of 60 minutes.

"To put our door-to-needle time in perspective, delivering tPA in 38 minutes instead of 60 minutes saves a patient almost 42 million brain cells," said Megan Donohue, MD, stroke program director of the Intermountain Medical Center Neurosciences Institute. "Timing is everything when you’re having a stroke, and our dedicated team works to ensure that patients have better outcomes, shorter recoveries, and can return more quickly to their day-to-day lives.”

What are the signs and symptoms of a stroke?

Symptoms and warning signs of a stroke are similar to other brain injuries, such as brain tumors and concussions.

If you have a stroke you may experience sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arms, or legs, especially on just one side of the body. You may get confused and have trouble speaking and understanding others when they are speaking. Trouble seeing in one or both eyes is common, as well as trouble walking or maintaining balance. The most common symptom is a painful headache that sets in quickly.

You can use the acronym BE FAST to remember the signs of a stroke, and also to remind yourself that if you have these symptoms you’d better BE FAST and call 911. The letters stand for:

• B: Balance - sudden dizziness or loss of balance or coordination

• E: Eyes - sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

• F: Face - sudden weakness of the face (Does one side of your face droop?)

• A: Arm - weakness of an arm or leg

• S: Speech - sudden difficulty speaking

• T: Time - time the symptoms started

If you or a loved one is showing signs of a stroke, it is crucial to call 911 and get medical attention immediately.