Tick…tick…tick…every second counts if you or a loved one is having a stroke. A few hours can make a big difference between recovery or death. If you think you or someone near you is having a stroke, don’t hesitate to call 911.
“Typically you have about three hours from the time of your first stroke symptom to get treatment to minimize damage to your brain that can cause serious, long-term disabilities,” says Dr. Rajesh Vakani, MD, board certified cardiologist on staff with Harnett Health. “It is best to seek immediate medical help if you think you are having a stroke.”
The National Stroke Association suggests that you remember the word “FAST” to help determine if you or a loved one is having a stroke.
F – Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A – Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S – Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
T – Time: If you observe any of these signs, immediately call 911.
“If you notice one or more of the warning signs of a stroke, make a note of when the symptom(s) begin to tell your healthcare provider,” continues Dr. Vakani. “Knowing when symptoms being will help determine the best course of treatment.”
What is it and what causes it?
A stroke happens when the blood supply to part of your brain is stopped or significantly reduced. This deprives the brain of oxygen and food and within minutes brain cells begin to die.
“There are three main types of stroke: a blocked artery (ischemic stroke), a leaking or burst blood vessel (hemorrhagic stroke), or a temporary disruption of blood flow to the brain (transient ischemic attack),” explains Dr. Vakani.
Ischemic Stroke – 85% of strokes are ischemic strokes. These strokes occur when either a blood clot forms in one of the arteries that supplies blood to your brain or when a blood clot or other debris forms in another part of the body and moves through your bloodstream and becomes lodged in a brain artery.
Hemorrhagic Stroke – This type of stroke happens when a blood vessel in your brain leaks or ruptures.
Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) – This condition if often called a “ministroke” and is usually caused by a temporary decrease in blood supply to part of your brain. TIA mostly last less than five minutes and don’t leave lasting symptoms because the blockage is temporary.
“But even if your symptoms are temporary, you should get emergency care,” cautions Dr. Vakani. “If you experience a TIA, then you likely have a partially blocked artery leading to your brain that puts you at a higher risk for a stroke that can cause permanent damage.”
Some of the more common risk factors for stroke include:
• High blood pressure
• Cigarette smoking
• Being overweight or obese
• Obstructive sleep apnea
• Use of some birth control pills or hormone therapies that include estrogen
“If you have any of these risk factors, work with your physician to get them under control or, if possible, eliminate them,” suggests Dr. Vakani. “Other risk factors that are out of your control include family history, being 55 or older, race, gender, or history of preeclampsia.”
Diagnosis and Treatment
To determine your treatment for stroke, your doctor may use a variety of methods to determine the type of stroke and to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms. Most likely, a physical exam will be conducted along with blood tests. Your doctor will then decide if other tests are needed like an MRI, CT scan, carotid ultrasound, cerebral angiogram, or echocardiogram.
“The findings of the tests will give your physician the information needed to plan your course of treatment,” says Dr. Vakani. “It is crucial that you follow your doctor’s orders so that you recover as fully as possible and help prevent any other occurrences.”
Dr. Vakani continues, “There are several emergency treatment methods dependant on the type of stroke you experience. For instance, if you have an ischemic stroke, quick treatment within 4.5 hours with clot-busting drugs (thrombolytics) improves the chances of survival and may reduce any complications from the stroke.”
After emergency treatment, the next step is to help you recover as much function possible. Most stroke patients will need intensive therapy in a rehabilitation program. Your healthcare providers will prescribe a regimen of therapy that takes into consideration your lifestyle, age, overall health and degree of disability. Depending on your needs, you may stay in the hospital for therapy, be transferred to a skilled nursing or rehabilitation facility, or have therapy in your home.
“According to The National Stroke Association, stroke touches approximately 795,000 people a year in the U.S. and only four percent of patients are appropriately treated,” says Dr. Vakani. “Always play it safe and get immediate medical attention if you think a stroke is in progress. It could save your life.”
Need a cardiologist? Visit our online Find a Physician tool at HarnettHealth.org.