Stroke Strikes F.A.S.T. – You Should Too

stroke cerebral arteryOf the 77.9 million Americans who struggle with high blood pressure, nearly 37 million of these people have an increased risk of having a stroke, according to the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association. The risk of stroke is directly related to how high the blood pressure is because it leads to weakening of the blood vessels in the brain. Over time, hypertension leads to atherosclerosis and hardening of the large arteries that can lead to blockage of small blood vessels in the brain.

What is a stroke?

A stroke is sometimes called a “brain attack” because blood flow to an area in the brain is cut off. When brain cells are deprived of oxygen and glucose, the brain cells die, and if not caught early enough, permanent brain damage can result.

There are two types of stroke. Ischemic stroke is similar to a heart attack, except it occurs in the blood vessels of the brain. Clots block blood flow to the brain’s cells. About 80% of all strokes are ischemic stroke. Hemorrhagic strokes occur when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures and blood seeps into the brain tissue and causes damage to brain cells. The most common causes are high blood pressure and brain aneurysms.

How do I recognize the symptoms?

The National Stroke Association states that the most important thing to remember is to act fast if you or a loved one is experiencing any of the following stroke symptoms. In fact, F.A.S.T. will help you remember some of the signs.

F – Face – Sudden numbness in the face, especially on one side of the body. That side of the face may droop. Ask the person to smile.

A – Arm – Sudden arm weakness or numbness. Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S – Speech – Sudden slurred speech or difficulty understanding words or simple sentences. It may also be difficult to swallow. Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence.

T – Time – Call 911 and get to the closest Emergency Room immediately if the person shows any of these symptoms. Remember, time lost is brain lost.

Other symptoms may include blurred or decreased vision in one or both eyes, sudden dizziness or headache with nausea and vomiting, loss of balance and poor coordination, brief loss of consciousness, and sudden confusion.

Some people experience a mini-stroke which is a warning of an impending stroke. This is called a transient ischemic attack (TIA). It consists of the same signs and symptoms of stroke, but the symptoms are temporary and last usually 15 minutes or less. A TIA can occur anywhere from a few minutes to several months before a stroke. A TIA is a painless episode, but it is a warning that something is wrong and should be treated as seriously as a stroke.

What can I expect in the ER?

The doctor and neurologist will diagnose your condition as quickly as possible in the Emergency Room. If you are experiencing an ischemic stroke, a medicine called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) will be administered. This medicine is injected into a vein in your arm and breaks up blood clots in the arteries of the brain. Why act fast? The tPA must be given within four hours of the start of symptoms to work. Ideally, it should be given as soon as possible. Your doctor may also prescribe blood thinners.

If you are experiencing a hemorrhagic stroke, tPA or blood thinners would not be administered because it would make bleeding worse. The first step in treating a hemorrhagic stroke is to find the cause of the bleeding in the brain and then control it, often with surgery. Patients with high blood pressure will also start medication to help prevent further bleeding.

Glacial Ridge Hospital provides the highest level of stroke care in the region through the St. Cloud Hospital Stroke Center’s telestroke program. Our staff has immediate access to stroke neurologists for patients suffering acute strokes. Through telestroke, doctors, patients and their families in the ER at GRHS are able to see and interact with the on-call neurologist. The advanced technology allows the neurologist to examine the patient as if he or she were right in the room. For patients, it means they receive a more rapid triage, diagnosis and the most appropriate therapy before the critical treatment time passes.

How can I prevent a second stroke?

After experiencing a stroke, significant lifestyle changes are likely needed. These can include quitting smoking, following a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and becoming physically active. If lifestyle changes aren’t enough, you may need medicine to control your risk factors.

There’s an app for that too

Download the free F.A.S.T. app on your smartphone for easy reference.

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