A stroke is a “brain attack” and should be considered a medical emergency, the same as a heart attack. Similar to a heart attack, in which blood flow to heart muscle is blocked, a stroke results from a blood clot blocking a vessel carrying blood to or within the brain.
Neurologists and other physicians who treat stroke agree that “time lost is brain lost.” Minutes matter when treating a person who has shown signs of stroke. Every minute that blood flow is blocked means more of the brain is damaged. Without immediate treatment only about one in five stroke sufferers makes a near or full recovery.
Strokes can have one or more warning signs and symptoms, and these can present themselves alone or in varying combinations. To recognize a stroke, watch for a person suddenly having any of these problems:
• Trouble walking, losing balance, becoming dizzy or losing 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 one side of the mouth or face.
• Confusion and trouble speaking or understanding.
• 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 notice any of these symptoms:
• Call 911 and have the person taken to the nearest emergency room trained to treat strokes.
• Make a note of the time, as that will help a physician determine the best course of treatment.
Northern Nevada Medical Center has a Stroke Response Team, which consists of health care professionals whose highest priority is treating stroke. Stroke Response Team members have received training to assess the patient, determine whether the patient has had a stroke and decide on the appropriate treatment.
Immediate treatment is vital because, if a patient arrives within three hours of the warning signs, a physician can administer tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), a medication to break up the clot.
Fortunately, you can follow some healthy living habits that have been shown to reduce stroke risk.
• Quit smoking. Talk with your physician about starting a smoking-cessation program.
• Limit your salt intake. This includes reducing consumption of the many processed foods that are high in sodium.
• Drink alcohol in moderation.
• Eat more fruits and vegetables.
• Buy whole grain breads and cereals.
• Exercise regularly, such as taking a brisk walk or riding a bike for 30 minutes a day.
• Ask your physician about taking an aspirin a day.
• Practice good dental hygiene habits. People with gum disease have a higher risk of stroke.
• Seek treatment for depression. Depressed adults are more likely to suffer a stroke.
While stroke is deadly and debilitating, you can act to prevent it and to seek treatment that will lessen its harm.
Aaron Heide, MD, is a neurologist with the Northern Nevada Medical Group, located on the NNMC campus at Vista Medical Terrace, 2345 E. Prater Way. Heide earned his medical degree from the University of Washington School of Medicine and completed his residency at Tufts University in Boston. He completed a fellowship in stroke at Lahey Medical Center in Burlington, Mass., and is board certified in neurology and vascular neurology. To make an appointment, call 352-5300.