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Stroke | Learn symptoms, causes and proper response.

  • For many people, a stroke means death.  For others, it means a lifelong disability. 

  • Most strokes are caused by a blockage in an artery or arteries that carry blood to the brain.  As a result, part of the brain is starved of blood and oxygen, leading to lost function in the parts of the body controlled by that area of the brain.  For example, a stroke victim can lose his/her ability to use an arm or a leg, to speak, or to understand spoken language.  Damage can be temporary or permanent.  
  • Stroke victims can suffer severe brain damage when people nearby fail to recognize the symptoms of a stroke.  
  • Any stroke, no matter how small, is a warning that another one may be coming, and the next one could be far more severe, with long-lasting physical and cognitive effects.  
  • Time Is Everything.  By recognizing the signs of a stroke, and immediately getting the stroke victim to a stroke center (like Sacred Heart Hospital in Spokane), doctors can often reverse the side effects and prevent permanent damage.  One neurologist said that if he can get to a stroke victim within 3 hours, he can totally reverse the effects of a stroke…totally.  Physicians treat patients with a clot-busting drug that can help protect the brain against permanent damage.  TPA, or “tissue plasminogen activator” is the main drug used to strokes and should be given within three hours to stroke victims 80 or older or 4.5 hours for younger people.  The sooner TPA is giver, the more effective it can be.  The trick is getting a stroke recognized, diagnosed, and then getting the patient medically cared for within 3 hours of the stroke’s onset. 

  • Signs and symptoms (women report different symptoms from men):

    • Numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg (particularly on one side of the body); droopiness on one side of the face or one arm
    • Confusion
    • Speech and comprehension problems

    • Vision difficulties in one or both eyes
    • Problems walking

    • Severe headache with no known cause
    • Dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
    • Agitation

    • Pain
    • “Altered” consciousness or mental state (more commonly reported from women)

    • Sleepiness
    • Personality changes

      Any of these symptoms may be temporary and last only a few minutes. Don’t ignore them! If symptoms appear, call 9-1-1 to get medical attention immediately.

      (Source: Spokane Valley Hospital Magazine Winter 2012; The Spokesman-Review, Adrian Rogers, “Stroke’s other side”, 11-13-12; American Heart Association flyer, January 2015; SR, Jeff Clark, “Fast action can combat stroke”, 6-13-16)

  • 795,000 Americans have a stroke each year.  (CDC)

  • Stroke is the 6th leading cause of death in Washington State, and the leading cause of preventable disability.  (American Heart Assn.)

  • From the American Heart Association:

    • Strokes kill twice as many women as breast cancer

    • 61% of the people who die from stroke are women 

    • More than 75% of all people who suffer a stroke are 65 years old and above

    • A stroke occurs about every 40 seconds, affecting almost 800,000 people a year

    • About 140,000 people die annually from a stroke in the U.S.

    • The risk of having a stroke doubles each decade after age 55

    • The leading cause of most strokes is hypertension or high blood pressure. This can be treated with medicine to help prevent a stroke. 
 (Source: Spokane Valley Hospital Magazine Winter 2012; SR, Adrian Rogers, “Stroke’s other side”, 11-13-12; American Heart Association flyer, January 2015; SR, Jeff Clark, “Fast action can combat stroke”, 6-13-16)

  • Among adults in 2013, 3% had a history of having a stroke.  Stroke prevalence was more likely among adults 65 years of age or older.  (Spokane Counts 2015, page 10, Spokane Regional Health District)
What You Can Do
  • Learn how to RECOGNIZE A STROKE –
Occasionally someone can suffer a stroke without displaying any symptoms. 
However, if someone suddenly has…

slurred speech
trouble speaking
difficulty understanding what others are saying
sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body
sudden loss of vision in one eye or both eyes
sudden and severe headache
lost balance, becoming unstable

…If they have any of these symptoms, even if they go away after a few minutes, call 911 immediately!

ASK these questions:  

Ask the individual to smile.  

T – TONGUE…Ask the individual to stick out his tongue.  If the tongue is crooked, or goes to one side or the other, that is a symptom. 

T – TALK…Ask the individual to speak a simple sentence coherently; i.e.  “It is sunny out today.”  Notice slurred speech, or trouble speaking.  

R – RAISE ARMS…Ask him to raise both arms.  

If the individual has trouble with ANY ONE of these tasks, call 911 immediately and describe the symptoms to the dispatcher.
  • Consider this reminder:  F-A-S-T
    Face Drooping
    Arm Weakness
    Speech Difficulty
    Time to all 9-1-1   (source:  American Stroke Assn.)

  • The best way to deal with a stroke is to avoid having one in the first place.  
Make sure your blood pressure is controlled.
Maintain normal blood-sugar levels.
Eat a healthy diet low in fat and salt.
Limit your alcohol and don’t smoke.
Ask your doctor about taking a low-dose aspirin daily.  Though not for everyone, it may help to prevent strokes.

“When Strokes Strike Silently,” by Dr. Ranit Mishori,
     Stay Healthy, Parade Magazine, November 9, 2008, p. 22 

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