To help avoid stroke, know your risk factors and take steps to reduce them. There are some risk factors for stroke you cannot control, such as age and heredity. Other factors, however, do allow you to take action.
High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke and the most important controllable risk factor. Your physician can prescribe medications to control blood pressure.
Cigarette smoke, with its nicotine and carbon monoxide, is also a major risk factor for stroke as well as heart attack.
Diabetes increases the risk for stroke, and many people with diabetes have other risk factors, such as high blood pressure. Following your treatment plan, along with diet and exercise, can help reduce this risk.
With cardiovascular disease, blood vessels narrowed by the buildup of fatty deposits, known as plaque, become more susceptible to blockage by a clot. Heart conditions such as atrial fibrillation can increase the risk of clots, which can travel to the brain and cause a stroke. Again, exercise and a heart-healthy diet can combat these risks.
While stroke can seem to attack suddenly, you can recognize its onset by these warning signs:
• Confusion and trouble speaking or understanding
• Trouble walking, losing balance, becoming dizzy or losing strength or coordination of the arms or legs on one side of the body
• Changes to the head and eyes, including trouble seeing in one or both eyes or having double vision; slurred speech; numbness or weakness of one side of the face; or a noticeable droop of the one side of the mouth or face
• Numbness of the arms or legs on one side of the body
• Severe headache that comes on suddenly and with no known cause
If you see the warning signs of stroke, remember that time lost is brain lost. When a clot blocks blood flow to the brain, brain cells begin to die for lack of oxygen. Without immediate treatment for this “brain attack,” only about one in five stroke victims makes a near or full recovery.
Call 911 and instruct the emergency services personnel to take you to the nearest certified Primary Stroke Center, because minutes matter. In most cases the treatment of choice for acute stroke patients is the clot-busting drug tPA (tissue plasminogen activator). It is only recommended, however, if it can be administered in the first four and a half hours of symptom onset.
If you or a loved one suffers a stroke, you now have the next generation of stroke care right near your home. The Joint Commission, the nation’s leading accrediting body for hospitals, recently awarded its Gold Seal of Approval for certification as a Primary Stroke Center to Northern Nevada Medical Center.
To achieve this certification, Northern Nevada Medical Center underwent a rigorous, on-site evaluation by The Joint Commission and was able to prove compliance with national standards for stroke care. The Joint Commission’s certification is based on recommendations for primary stroke centers published by the Brain Attack Coalition and the American Stroke Association.
The Northern Nevada Medical Center Emergency Department’s stroke team works with emergency physicians to initiate care for patients with symptoms of possible stroke. A neurologist and other team members assess each patient, determine whether he or she has had a stroke and decide on the appropriate and rapid treatment.
NNMC also offers TeleStroke, an advanced communication system that can be taken to the patient’s bedside. Through videoconference technology, stroke specialists can examine patients, review their vital signs and interact with patients, family members and emergency department staff as quickly as possible.
May is a great time to take steps to reduce your stroke risk and make yourself aware that a Primary Stroke Center is nearby if you need it.
Jeff Wagner, MD, earned his medical degree at Oregon Health Sciences University, where he also completed his residency in neurology. Dr. Wagner completed his fellowship in neurophysiology at the University of Utah. He practices stroke neurology, and is the medical director of the Primary Stroke Center at Northern Nevada Medical Center.