Understanding Stroke: Know the Signs, Act in Time

Seconds count when it comes to surviving a stroke. Here’s how to recognize the warning signs.

You’ve probably heard the word “stroke” many times. But the truth is, many Americans still don’t understand the basic facts about stroke, and are not familiar enough with the warning signs to recognize a stroke when it is happening.

Public awareness of the symptoms of stroke lags far behind that of heart attack symptoms — even though the knowledge could be lifesaving. Many of us know that if we have chest pain or shortness of breath, we could be having a heart attack. But when it comes to stroke, an American Stroke Association survey estimates that three out of four Americans can’t name even one symptom!

Dr Dillon and Dr EavesWhat is a stroke?

A stroke, or “brain attack,” occurs when arteries to the brain rupture or become blocked, which causes brain tissue to die. Prompt treatment may be able to save brain cells and reduce damage and disability.

If you have symptoms of a stroke, it is a medical emergency. Brain tissue dies quickly when deprived of oxygen. Early treatment can minimize brain damage and potential disability or even mean the difference between life and death.

Speed is essential when treating stroke.

“It is very important for people who are having stroke symptoms to get to a hospital as quickly as possible,” says James D. Dillon, MD (pictured, left), a neurosurgeon at Aiken Regional Medical Centers. “The expression we use is ‘time is brain,’ meaning the more time that passes without treatment, the more brain cells are likely to die.”

According to the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, 87 percent of strokes are caused by a blood clot. A clot-busting drug may be given to dissolve the clot, but should be administered within three hours after symptoms begin.

“Many patients simply do not act because they do not recognize the wide array of symptoms, which may include confusion, paralysis, numbness or impaired vision,” says Charles C. Eaves, DO, FACEP (pictured, right), an emergency medicine physician at Aiken Regional. “The temptation is to wait and hope that the discomfort will subside, which is the worst thing you can do.”

Learn how to spot a stroke F.A.S.T.

When it comes to stroke, minutes matter. Many symptoms of possible stroke can appear suddenly, and without warning. Although they may not be painful, they must be taken seriously.

“Every minute you wait, hoping your symptoms will go away, you lose almost 2 million brain cells,” says Dr. Dillon. “Don’t try to tough it out, and don’t waste time trying to get in touch with your primary physician or neurologist. You need emergency help.”

Stroke treatment at ARMC

As a member of the National Stroke Association’s Stroke Center Network, Aiken Regional is committed to providing high-quality acute and rehabilitative stroke care. It’s why Aiken Regional has fully credentialed neurologists and emergency medicine physicians on call 24/7, who are trained to treat urgent stroke symptoms around the clock.

Neurologists can use computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and cerebral angiography to examine a patient’s brain, verify if a stroke is present and recommend appropriate treatments.

Aiken Regional also follows treatment protocols established by the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association in order to achieve door-to-needle treatment times for stroke patients within 60 minutes or less.

What lasting effects can a stroke cause?

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in this country, behind heart disease and cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health. Every year, about 700,000 people in the U.S. suffer a stroke, and nearly 163,000 will die as a result. “Stroke leads to more serious and lasting disabilities than any other disease,” says Dr. Eaves. “The effects of a stroke depend on the extent and the location of damage in the brain.”

Among the many types of disabilities that can result from a stroke are:

  • Inability to move part of the body (paralysis)
  • Weakness in part of the body
  • Numbness in part of the body
  • Inability to speak or understand words; difficulty communicating
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Vision loss
  • Memory loss, confusion or poor judgment
  • Change in personality; emotional problems
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Think F.A.S.T.

stopwatchThe most common symptoms of a possible stroke can be remembered by the acronym FAST:

FACE: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

ARMS: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

SPEECH: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is the speech slurred or strange?

TIME: is critical! If you see any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.

If these symptoms appear, DON’T WAIT! Call 9-1-1 or seek medical attention right away.

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You Can Reduce
Your Risk for Stroke

couple on bikesThe good news is that you can prevent most strokes by controlling your risks, the biggest one being high blood pressure. By working with your healthcare team, you can learn what your risks are and how to reduce them through lifestyle changes.

Watching what you eat and being physically active are high on the list. They’ll help you feel better, too. In many cases, living a healthy lifestyle reduces the need for medical treatment. Here are some general guidelines to follow:*

  1. LOWER your blood pressure
  2. IMPROVE cholesterol levels
  3. CONTROL diabetes
  4. ASK your doctor about low-dose aspirin
  5. ASK if you have atrial fibrillation
  6. EXCERCISE 30 minutes daily
  7. MAINTAIN a low-salt, low-fat diet
  8. QUIT smoking
  9. LIMIT alcohol intake
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Stroke Services

A multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals at Aiken Regional Medical Centers works to evaluate and treat all stroke emergencies, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Learn more >

Aiken Regional Medical Centers is owned and operated by a subsidiary of Universal Health Services, Inc.(UHS), a King of Prussia, PA-based company, that is one of the largest healthcare management companies in the nation.        

Aiken Regional Medical Centers

302 University Parkway
Aiken, SC 29801

© 2016 Aiken Regional Medical Centers. All rights reserved.


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