The importance of recognizing a stroke
Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke and every 3 1/2 minutes, someone dies of one, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Strokes know no boundaries and can impact anyone from infants to elderly, often completely unannounced.
June is National Stroke Awareness Month. Sanjeev Kumar, MD, a doctor with Lawrence Neurology Specialists, said stroke is not only the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, but it is the leading cause of serious long-term disability.
Dr. Sanjeev Kumar
“It leaves about half of survivors with a moderate to severe disability,” he said. “Most lasting implications will vary depending on the site of stroke in the brain. The most common limitations include difficulty talking or walking, weakness, balance, swallowing difficulty and vision impairment, just to name a few.”
It is said every year but Dr. Kumar said it cannot be said enough – always remember to BE FAST. What does that stand for?
Balance – Loss of balance (headache or dizziness)
Eyes – Blurred vision
Face – One side of the face is drooping
Arms – Arm or leg weakness
Speech – Speech difficulty
Time – Time to call for ambulance immediately
“Though some people may be aware they are having a stroke, generally strokes are painless,” Dr. Kumar said. “About 85% are ischemic strokes, or transient ischemic attacks (TIA), that are not painful. Subarachnoid hemorrhage, or brain bleeding, produce a bad headache often as a first symptom, but some people may not be aware at all. That is why it is important to say something if you notice symptoms in others and call 911 immediately if you experience them.”
When it comes to strokes, time lost is brain lost. Though strokes are immensely serious and a medical emergency, if acted on quickly Dr. Kumar said there are incredible technologies to stop the course of a stroke.
“Today, there are very good treatments for stroke cases,” he said. “A drug that is referred to as intravenous (IV) tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), can be administered to dissolve the clot and may be able to reverse things within four and a half hours for many. For those over the age of 80 with diabetes, this time goes down to three hours. Though this works for many experiencing a stroke, it will not work for strokes cause by hemorrhaging or head trauma.”
Strokes can be common and damaging, however, Dr. Kumar said it is a treatable and preventable condition. If any signs or symptoms present themselves, he said it is important to call your doctor, or better yet, come to the hospital.
“We are equipped to take care of all types of strokes,” Dr. Kumar said. “If we cannot, our team will be sure to guide you to seeking the best care. We have three board-certified neurologists and have a stroke specific unit at LMH Health.”
Though you may not be able to anticipate a stroke, there are some lifestyle changes you can make to make yourself less susceptible to them. Dr. Kumar said things like losing weight, maintaining a good, healthy weight and smoking cessation are great. It is also important to treat high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart problems and to eat a healthy diet. It’s even better if the diet is plant based!
Adam Stuart, LPN, with Lawrence Neurology Specialists, said that from a nursing perspective, prevention is key. This is because once you have a stroke, your chances of getting another is much higher.
“Strokes are fairly straight forward and well-studied. That is why we know it is important to pay attention to your symptoms and warning signs and remember BE FAST. If you have a stroke or a TIA, known as a mini or warning stroke, your chances to get a second stroke increase significantly,” he said. “Your highest risk is in the following 6-9 months after the first incident, so it is important not to ignore your warning signs, even if they went away like they do in a TIA.”
Adam Stuart, LPN
Stuart said it is important to continue with routine appointments after a stroke or TIA so that your care team can continue to monitor your condition and make adjustments if needed. Strokes sometimes have different origins so adapting a care plan to best avoid another stroke is key.
“After a stroke, part of our treatment is to make sure you are on the right path to success. You do not want to have a second stroke,” he said. “Many people have unhealthy habits and lifestyles without even realizing it. Often when we reset and our patients follow their plans, strokes can be avoided a second time around. However, it is never too late to change your habits and be aware of stroke warning signs. No one is out of the woods, so prevention and awareness are key.”