National Stroke Awareness Month

May is National Stroke Awareness Month

Figure 1:

Stroke happens when a clot or rupture interrupts blood flow to the brain. Without oxygen-rich blood, brain cells die.

Some facts about strokes:

  • A stroke happens every 40 seconds.
  • Every four minutes someone dies from stroke.
  • Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S.
  • Up to 80% of strokes can be prevented.
  • High blood pressure equals higher risk of stroke.
  • Strokes kill more than 133,000 Americans annually.
  • Stroke is a leading cause of serious, long-term disability.
  • Each year, about as many Americans have a stroke as a heart attack.

Risk Factors for Stroke

  • High Blood Pressure
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Diet high in fat and cholesterol
  • Low level of physical activity
  • Obesity
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Carotid artery disease
  • Peripheral Artery disease
  • Atrial Fibrillation
  • Heart Disease
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Age (higher risk as we age)
  • Family history of stroke
  • Race (African Americans at higher risk)
  • Gender (more women than men)
  • Prior stroke, TIA, or heart attack

The National Stroke Awareness Month program places emphasis on making the public aware about Acting FAST.

According to the National Stroke Association, a person experiencing a stroke can be treated if people have acted FAST – 80% of strokes can also be prevented.

FAST is an acronym for things to check in a suspected stroke victim:

  • F – Face / Does the face droop on one side when the person smiles?
  • A – Arm / After raising both arms, does one of the arms drift downwards?
  • S – Speech /After repeating a simple phrase, does the persons speech sound slurred or strange?
  • T – Time / If any or all of the above are observed call for 911 and ask for medical assistance.

Additional stroke signs include: sudden severe headache with no known cause; sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; or sudden confusion or trouble understanding.

Can Strokes Be Treated?

There are several treatment options for stroke depending on the cause of your stroke. If you are having an ischemic stroke or a stroke that is caused by a blood clot your healthcare professional may recommend drug treatment.

Drug Treatment

There is only one Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approved drug treatment for acute ischemic stroke. Tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) is given via intravenous therapy (IV) and works by dissolving the clot and improving blood flow to the part of the brain being deprived of blood flow. tPA should be given within three hours (and up to 4.5 hours in certain eligible patients)of the time symptoms first started.

Mechanical Devices

Some ischemic strokes are treated with small mechanical devices that remove or break up blood clots. If clot-busting drugs are ruled out, another option one of the many FDA approved mechanical devices. A surgeon inserts a small mechanical device into the blocked artery using a thin tube. Once inside, the tool traps the clot, and either breaks it up or the surgeon pulls it out of the brain, reopening the blocked blood vessel in the process.

A hemorrhagic stroke (sometimes called a bleed) occurs if an artery in your brain leaks blood or ruptures (breaks open). The first steps in treating a hemorrhagic stroke are to find the cause of bleeding in the brain and then control it. Some of the options for treatments include surgical clips or coils inserted in aneurisms (weaknesses in the blood vessel wall), controlling high blood pressure, and surgery to remove the bleeding vessel and blood that has spilled into the brain.

Medical advances have greatly improved survival rates and recovery from stroke during the last decade. Your chances of survival and recovery outcomes are even better if the stroke is identified and treated immediately.