Knowing the Signs of Stroke Improves Outcomes, Saves Lives

Many of us have heard the phrase “time is brain” referring to the aftermath of a stroke. The most common type of stroke occurs when an artery in the brain becomes blocked, cutting off the flow of blood and oxygen to part of the brain. After a stroke, up to 32,000 neurons (brain cells) die every second, or about 1.9 million a minute!

brain-scan“After a stroke, every minute counts,” says neurologist Fatima Milfred, MD. “That’s why my colleagues in Neurology work in close collaboration with Emergency Department physicians to rapidly evaluate and treat stroke. The right interventions delivered quickly will save brain function and improve outcomes.”

Know the Signs

Recognizing the signs of stroke is critical for getting emergency medical help as soon as possible. Remember the letters B.E.F.A.S.T. for spotting a stroke:

  • “B” stands for Balance. Sudden dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
  • “E” stands for Eyes. Sudden changes in vision or trouble seeing out of one or both eyes.
  • “F” stands for Face drooping. The person’s face or smile appears lopsided.
  • “A” stands for Arms. One arm is weak or numb and can’t stay raised.
  • “S” stands for Speech. Impaired or slurred speech; difficulty repeating simple phrases.
  • “T” stands for Time. Even if signs go away, call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital immediately.

Signs of strokePreparing for the Unexpected

“Most people do not plan ahead for a trip to the hospital for an emergency such as stroke,” says emergency medicine physician Joshua Zwart, MD. “But a few simple, proactive steps can help ensure you receive the best care in this situation.”

Dr. Zwart recommends people create a personal health file in advance and update it regularly. It should fit into a wallet, purse or be readily available on a smart device and include:

  • Chronic health conditions and previous surgeries
  • Results of recent medical tests
  • Medication allergies
  • List of current medications, vitamins or herbal supplements
  • Names and contact information for your doctors, family and friends who may need to be alerted in the event of an emergency health issue
  • Advance directives

Highly Coordinated Care

Emergency departments operate on a triage basis, which means the most serious illnesses or injuries are attended to first. If you are brought to an emergency department with a suspected stroke, you will be rapidly evaluated and treated. A team of clinicians, including emergency medicine physicians, neurologists, nurses and others will coordinate getting your medical history and completing a physical exam. Additional advanced diagnostic testing and treatment may include:

  • CT scan of the head
  • CT angiography (special imaging of arteries and veins)
  • Blood tests
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Acute stroke medications, such as tissue plasminogen activator (tPA – a clot-busting drug)
  • Thrombectomy (mechanical clot extraction) for large vessel occlusion, if indicated

An Ounce of Prevention

It is estimated that 80 percent of strokes could be prevented. Here are some ways to reduce your risk of having a stroke:

  • Treat high blood pressure and diabetes – regular follow-up with a primary care provider is a must.
  • Reduce high cholesterol.
  • Maintain ideal body weight. Losing as little as 10 pounds can have a real impact on stroke risk.
  • Exercise regularly – 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity at least five days per week, under the supervision of your doctor.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Find activities that reduce stress, such as listening to music, taking a walk, calling a friend, or other “time-out” activities.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet higher in fruits and vegetables and lower in red meat, such as the Mediterranean diet.

To get an idea of your personal risk for heart disease or stroke, try this online calculator from the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association.

After a Stroke Event

Sometimes symptoms of stroke resolve before treatment is implemented. The patient may have suffered what’s known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA), also called a mini stroke. Up to 40 percent of people who have TIAs will go on to have a stroke, which is why immediate preventive follow-up care is needed. Virginia Mason patients who are able to receive outpatient care are referred to the Rapid Access TIA Clinic, offering both medical and lifestyle interventions to reduce stroke risk.

Nurse Assessing Stroke Victim By Raising ArmsFollow-up care following treatment for stroke is extremely important. Your care team will outline a plan to aid your recovery and help prevent a future stroke from happening. Special programs, like shared medical appointments (Virginia Mason offers one called Brain Health Strategies), help stroke survivors connect with each other for extra support during their time of healing.

Virginia Mason’s Stroke Support Group is offered monthly as another resource for patients, with facilitators who cover helpful topics while providing plenty of discussion time during each session for stroke survivors, their loved ones and caregivers.

Patients treated for stroke in other health systems are welcome to explore follow-up care options and programs with the Virginia Mason Stroke Center. For more information visit our website, or call (206) 341-0420.

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