Sep 17, 2021
Someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds. A stroke can happen to anyone, at any time, at any age. A fetus can experience a stroke. However, three quarters of all strokes happen in people age 65 and over. Every 4 minutes, someone dies of stroke—more than 130,000 people annually, making it the fifth leading cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States.
Stroke is a very serious condition. It is sometimes called “a brain attack.” When you have a stroke, blood flow to the brain is being blocked, causing brain cells to die due to lack of oxygen or bleeding into the brain. Some cells are damaged, rather than die, and can be saved if treatment is received quickly. Acting fast at the first sign of a stroke can save lives and lessen post stroke impairment.
Early symptoms in people over 65 can be subtle, but recognizable. Signs and symptoms can include:
- Confusion or changes in behavior
- Headache, particularly one in which the pain feels unusual
- Drooping of one side of the face
- “Crooked” tongue—where the tongue goes to one side or the other when the patient sticks out their tongue
- Numbness or weakness in the extremities
- Loss of speech or sight that worsens
- Loss of coordination or balance
Women’s symptoms may appear differently than men’s. For example, women may get the hiccups or nausea with a stroke. Other symptoms in women include:
- Chest pain
- Heart Palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in legs, arm or face
There is a promotional campaign that uses the word FAST to help people remember the major symptoms of stroke:
- F = FACE. Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
- A = ARMS. Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
- S = SPEECH. Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Does the speech sound slurred or strange?
- T = TIME. If you observe any of these signs (independently or together), call 9-1-1 immediately.
There are a number of tests that are given at the hospital, including neurological exams, CT scans, MRI and lab tests. Early diagnosis and intervention by the appropriate medical team can significantly mitigate the damage caused by a stroke. If you get to the hospital and receive care within three hours of onset, there are drugs that can dramatically reverse the effects of stroke. The medication breaks up blood clots that created the obstruction, allowing a fresh blood supply with oxygen to the impacted area. Rehabilitation including physical, speech and occupational therapy may be needed. Those who are severely affected may require long-term care.
Barring a genetic predisposition to stroke, up to 80% of strokes can be prevented by not smoking, making healthy food choices, getting enough physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, and treating conditions such as high blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure. These preventive habits are critical for people who have suffered one or more strokes, as about one in four stroke victims will have another attack.
There are many resources to help those who have had a stroke and their loved ones. Being well informed is one of the most important factors in reducing the risk of stroke and maximizing recovery after stroke. The American Heart Association’s website, www.stroke.org/en, is a wealth of information on the prevention and after effects of stroke.
It can’t be said enough—if there is a chance that someone is having a stroke, get them medical attention immediately. When an emergency strikes, hospitals are still the safest place – even during a pandemic. Call 911 at the first sign of a stroke. Do not allow “what if” to delay treatment!