During a stroke, time is of the essence

How to spot the signs and symptoms of a possible stroke, and what to do when every second counts.

  • Thursday, April 4, 2019 8:30am
  • Life

By David Likosky

Special to the Reporter

Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke. The actions that take place in the minutes that follow are critical: the more quickly that person can receive care, the better chance they have of making a full recovery.

Causes and symptoms

A stroke occurs when there is a blockage of blood and oxygen to the brain, which can kill or damage brain cells. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 93 percent of stroke victims feel a sudden numbness or weakness concentrated to one side of the body or a specific limb, such as their face, arms or legs. If you or a loved one experience these symptoms, don’t hesitate — call 911.

Other symptoms might include sudden confusion, difficulty speaking or understanding speech; dizziness or loss of coordination; trouble seeing or a sudden severe headache with no apparent cause. Even if the symptom only lasts a short time or feels minor, it’s still important to react quickly and seek care as soon as possible.

Prevention and diagnosis

The best steps you can take to prevent a stroke involve practicing a healthy lifestyle and keeping your blood pressure in check.

Some factors, including family history, are beyond our control, but staying healthy and active, keeping your blood sugar and cholesterol down and refraining from smoking do a lot more than just decrease your risk of stroke. These habits also contribute to living a longer, healthier life.

If you or a loved one does have a stroke, the narrow window for treatment in the minutes that follow makes immediate diagnosis and treatment all the more important.

A good rule to follow when diagnosing a possible stroke is FAST: face, arms, speech and time. If you suspect someone is experiencing a stroke, take these steps:

  • Face – Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • Arms – Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech – When repeating a simple phrase, is their speech slurred or strange?
  • Time – If you observe any of these signs, call 911 immediately.

Treatment

At EvergreenHealth, we consistently innovate our technologies and practices to exceed the national standards for advanced care. Our team of providers, from first responders to lead neurologists, work collaboratively to ensure that patients are diagnosed and treated with the utmost urgency.

As soon as our multidisciplinary team of specially trained physicians, neurologists, hospitalists, intensivists and nurses receive the emergency call, we prepare to take action. Neurosurgeons and radiologists are on call to take action if needed, as well. We also provide Telestroke technology, which connects patients with neurologists and stroke specialists at any time of the day or night to deliver an immediate care assessment.

In appropriate cases, we’ll administer clot-busting medication such as tPA (tissue plasminogen activator), a drug that dissolves the blood clot and drastically improves a patient’s likelihood of recovering. However, this medication is only effective if delivered up to four and a half hours after symptoms begin, making it all the more critical for patients to seek emergency care immediately.

In some cases, we can remove blood clots from arteries in the brain, restoring blood flow with dramatic improvement. These minimally invasive procedures are done in our state-of-the-art biplane suite, which provides 3-D views of blood vessels. Through a small puncture in the groin, catheters are threaded up into the blood clots in order to restore blood flow. Our neurosurgeons can also treat aneurysms and many other conditions using the same equipment.

A stroke can be life changing. Prevention in the form of a healthy lifestyle and risk factor management, along with early detection and immediate action, will help to ensure the best outcomes.

Dr. David Likosky is the executive medical director of EvergreenHealth’s Neuroscience Institute and Hospitalists. Learn more at www.evergreenhealth.com/stroke.

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