The number of people who suffer a stroke is increasing twice as fast as those who develop breast cancer, but fortunately, 80 percent of all strokes are preventable, said Dr. Ravina Kadam of West Georgia Primary Care.
“It’s so important that we all work to eliminate the risk factors in our lives that can lead to a stroke,” she said. “Obesity can often cause Type II diabetes, and diabetes is one of the leading causes of stroke. Smoking, a lack of exercise, unhealthy eating and high blood pressure also can increase one’s risk of having a stroke.”
May is National Stroke Awareness Month, and Dr. Kadam says it is important not only to educate yourself on symptoms and treatment, but also to make sure your family, friends and co-workers know how to recognize when a person is having a stroke.
“You might not realize the symptoms you’re having are because of a stroke, or you might not be able to communicate what is happening to you,” she said. “Also, we all tend to just think our symptoms will go away and try to wait it out.”
A stroke is, quite simply, a “brain attack,” Dr. Kadam said. It occurs when the brain is deprived of oxygen because its blood supply is blocked by a clot or bleeding. Without oxygen, brain cells begin to die.
In most cases, the sooner you can get treatment, the less likely it will be that your brain tissue will be permanently damaged. If you wait too long, a stroke can lead to lifelong brain damage, disability or death.
Symptoms of a stroke include slurred speech or other speech problems; blurry vision or loss of vision in one eye; sudden, one-sided facial weakness; arm or leg weakness or pain, numbness or paralysis; confusion; dizziness; and sudden severe headache with no known cause.
To help determine if someone is having a stroke, one can remember the acronym “F.A.S.T.” “F” stands for face drooping or numbness on one side; you can ask a person to smile to see if the smile is uneven. “A” is for arm weakness on one side; ask a person to raise both arms and see if one drifts downward.
“S” stands for speech difficulty; check to see if speech is slurred or hard to understand, or see if the stroke victim can repeat a simple sentence like, “The sky is blue.” “T” stands for “time to call 9-1-1.” Make sure you remember what time symptoms appeared.
Types of strokes include: ischemic (clots), which occurs as a result of an obstruction within a blood vessel supplying blood to the brain; and hemorrhagic (bleeds), which occurs when a weakened blood vessel ruptures (usually caused by an aneurysm, arteriovenous malformation or high blood pressure). There also is a transient ischemic attack, or TIA, which is caused by a temporary clot and is often called a “mini-stroke.”
Ischemic strokes, which account for 87 percent of all stroke cases, usually can be successfully treated if one can seek medical treatment within three hours (and sometimes up to 4.5 hours) after the onset of systems, though not everyone would qualify for this treatment.
After diagnosing a stroke with a CT scan, medical professionals administer a tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), which works by dissolving the clot and improving blood flow to the part of the brain being deprived of blood flow. tPA is not for everyone; the criteria for giving this is based on the patient’s medical history.
A significant number of stroke victims don’t get to the hospital in time for tPA treatment; this is why it’s so important to identify a stroke immediately. If one has a “mini-stroke,” in which symptoms go away, it is imperative to seek immediate medical attention.
“It’s so important that people know that it is possible to recover from a stroke,” Dr. Kadam said. “It can be immediate, which can often be the case when tPA is given, or following a short stay in rehabilitation getting therapy. Complete recovery from a stroke can sometimes be a lifelong process.”
For more information, visit stroke.org or strokeassociation.org.