The Society for Academic Emergency Medicine wants you to know how to recognize the signs of a stroke. 

A stroke is “a brain attack” which happens when the blood flow to your brain stops due to a blood clot. When this occurs, the brain cells in the affected area begin to die at a rapid pace because they are no longer receiving the oxygen and nutrients they need to function. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “each year in the United States, there are more than 795,000 strokes.” A stroke is a medical emergency and shouldn’t be taken lightly. It is important to know the signs and symptoms of a stroke and if you or anyone you know is having a stroke to seek medical attention immediately. 

What to do if YOU are having a stroke

Seek medical attention immediately by calling 911! Don’t wait for symptoms to improve or worsen. Getting prompt medical attention could save you from lifelong disability. 

Types of Stroke

  1. Ischemic strokes are caused by an obstruction within a blood vessel that supplies blood to the brain. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “About 87% of all strokes are ischemic strokes.” The two most common types of ischemic strokes are thrombotic stroke, which occurs when a blood clot forms inside one of the brain’s arteries; and embolic stroke, which occurs when a blood clot that is formed elsewhere (commonly the heart) breaks loose and becomes lodged in one of the blood vessels to the brain. 
  2. Hemorrhagic strokes occur when a weakened part of a blood vessel (aneurysm) bursts or leaks inside the brain, spilling blood into and around the brain. According to the National Stroke Association, “only 15 percent of all strokes are hemorrhagic, but they are responsible for about 40 percent of all stroke deaths.” The two types of hemorrhagic strokes are intracerebral hemorrhages, which occur when a blood vessel within the brain suddenly bursts and blood leaks inside the brain, and subarachnoid hemorrhages, which happens when an artery bursts and spills into the space between the brain and the skull (subarachnoid space).
Transient ischemic attack (TIA), commonly known as a mini stroke, happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is blocked briefly. TIA produces similar symptoms to a stroke, but is usually temporary, and causes no permanent damage.  According to the National Stroke Association “up to 40 percent of all people who experience a TIA will go on to have an actual stroke.” Thus, TIA should be considered a warning of an impending stroke and steps should be taken to prevent it.

Symptoms of Stroke

  1. Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg (especially on one side of the body)
  2. Confusion and difficulty speaking or understanding speech
  3. Trouble seeing with one or both eyes
  4. Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, and/or loss of balance or coordination
  5. Unexpected, severe headache with no known cause

Think F-A-S-T

Face- One side of the face is numb and/or droops; smile is uneven

Arms- One arm is weak, cannot be lifted, and may drift downward if raised 

Speech- Speech is slurred; simple phase cannot be repeated

Time- Time is of the essence! Call 911 immediately if any of these signs are present 

Possible Effects of Stroke

The brain is a complex organ. Each part of the brain controls a particular body function or ability. When a stroke occurs, it prevents blood flow from reaching an area of the brain responsible for controlling a particular body part, in turn, that part of the body won’t work properly. Since one side of the brain controls the opposite side of the body, a stroke affecting the left side will result in disability of the right side, and vice versa. Although each stroke is different—depending on the part of the brain injured—the severity of the injury, and the patient’s general health, there are some common after effects. According to the NIH, “Stroke damage in the brain can affect the entire body - resulting in mild to severe disabilities. These include paralysis, problems with thinking, problems with speaking, and emotional problems.” 

Risk of Stroke

Strokes can happen to anyone, of any age, at any time. According to the CDC, “even though stroke risk increases with age, strokes can—and do—occur at any age. In 2009, 34% of people hospitalized for stroke were younger than 65 years.” 

Stroke Prevention

  • Control high blood pressure
  • Reduce high cholesterol levels
  • Manage diabetes 
  • Take care of heart problems
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Don’t smoke
  • Don’t use illicit stimulant drugs, such as methamphetamines or cocaine
  • Limit alcohol use
  • Eat a healthy diet 

Stroke Treatment

Stroke treatment works to open blocked arteries or treat the ruptured blood vessels. The type of treatment for stroke depends on the type of stroke and its location. If a patient is diagnosed with an ischemic stroke, the doctor’s first goal is to restore the blood flow to the patient’s brain. The patient is given a clot-dissolving drug called tissue plasminogen activator (t-PA) and may also receive aspirin. In some cases, the clot may be removed medically through surgery.  Treatment for a hemorrhagic stroke focuses on controlling bleeding, reducing pressure on the brain, and stabilizing blood pressure. To do this, the patient is given anti-platelet drugs, then continuous medical care while the body absorbs the blood. If bleeding is due to a ruptured aneurysm, surgery to repair the aneurysm may be done. If a large amount of bleeding has occurred, surgery may be required to remove blood that has built up inside the brain.

Stroke Statistics: 

  • Stroke kills almost 130,000 Americans each year—that’s 1 out of every 20 deaths. (CDC)
  • About 40 percent of stroke deaths occur in males, and 60 percent in females. (National Stroke Association)
  • A stroke happens every 40 seconds. (Stoke.org)
  • Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the country. (NIH)
  • African-Americans have nearly twice the risk for a first-ever stroke than Caucasians and a much higher death rate from stroke. (National Stroke Association)
  • On average, one American dies from stroke every 4 minutes. (CDC)
  • Nearly three-quarters of all strokes occur in people over the age of 65 and the risk of having a stroke more than doubles each decade after the age of 55. (NIH)
  • Stoke is the 5th leading cause of death and the leading cause of adult disability in the United States. (National Stroke Association)
  • Stroke costs the United States an estimated $34 billion each year. This total includes the cost of health care services, medications to treat stroke, and missed days of work. (CDC)
  • At least one in four stroke survivors will experience another stroke. (National Stroke Association)

This announcement is provided for informational purposes only. Please consult your doctor for medical advice.

Knowing the warning signs of stroke is vital. Taking immediate action when stroke is suspected is crucial and could make all the difference between recovery, lifelong disability, or death. Be smart, and call 911 if you think that you or anyone you know might be having a stroke. Every minute counts!

 

References:

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015, May 24) Stroke Facts. Retrieved November 23, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/stroke/facts.htm

2. Harvard Health Publications. 8 Things You Can Do to Prevent a Stroke. (2013, June 1) Retrieved November 23, 2015, from http://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/8-things-you-can-do-to-prevent-a-stroke

3. Heart and Stroke Association. Heart and Stroke Association Statistics. Retrieved November 23, 2015, from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/General/Heart-and-Stroke-Association-Statistics_UCM_319064_SubHomePage.jsp

4. Kulcsar M, Gilchrist S, George M. Improving stroke outcomes in rural areas through telestroke programs: An examination of barriers, facilitators, and state policies. Telemed J E Health. 2014 Jan; 20(1):3-10.

5. Mayo Clinic. Stroke Overview. (2015, October 25) Retrieved November 23, 2015, http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/stroke/home/ovc-20117264

6. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. What You Need to Know About Stroke. Retrieved November 23, 2015, from http://stroke.nih.gov/materials/needtoknow.htm

7. National Stroke Association. What is Stroke? (2014, July 16) Retrieved November 23, 2015, from http://www.stroke.org/understand-stroke/what-stroke

8. Office of Communications and Public Liaison. (2015, November 19) The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. NINDS Stroke Information Page.) Retrieved November 23, 2015, from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/stroke/stroke.htm

9. Tong X, George MG, Yang Q, Gillespie C. Predictors of in-hospital death and symptomatic intracranial hemorrhage in patients with acute ischemic stroke treated with thrombolytic therapy:  Paul Coverdell Acute Stroke Registry 2008-2012. Int J Stroke. 2014 Aug; 9(6):728-734.