Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, but survival rates have improved over the past few decades. The two main reasons for this include education and awareness. Knowing the signs and symptoms of this medical emergency increases survival and recovery rates.
What Causes a Stroke?
A stroke occurs when blood is not reaching your brain, preventing brain tissue from getting oxygen and nutrients. “Just as a heart attack happens when blood doesn’t get to your heart, the easiest way to think about a stroke is as a brain attack. Blood flow to your brain is interrupted or reduced,” states Stephanie Knewbow, Registered Nurse, and Clinical Coordinator and Director of the Emergency Department at Pullman Regional Hospital.
The most common type of stroke, ischemic stroke, occurs when a blood clot blocks blood flow to the brain. A hemorrhagic stroke is caused when a blood vessel in the brain leaks or ruptures.
Stroke Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms of stroke are typical and consistent:
- Sudden weakness or numbness in your face, arms, or legs—usually on one side of the body
- Abrupt loss of vision
- Speech difficulties
- Trouble with walking/coordination
“A quick assessment a family member can do is to use what we call the ‘FAST’ assessment. It stands for face, looking for numbness or paralysis. Arms, can they raise them equally? Check their speech, can you understand their speech? Then T is for time, time to call 9-1-1 and get the patient to the ER as soon as possible,” explains Knewbow.
Another popular saying within the medical community is “time is brain,” because once the stroke hits, brain cells begin to die within minutes. However, Knewbow cautions against driving to the emergency room yourself. Instead, call 9-1-1 immediately and wait for EMS to arrive.
“We really encourage calling 9-1-1, because the EMS crew can call the ER and we will be ready for you when you arrive. We’ll quickly start our stroke process,” she adds.
Treatment Options for Stroke
For ischemic stroke, clot dissolving medication can be used—but it must be started within four hours of onset of symptoms. If the patient is out of the window for clot dissolving medication, clot retrieval is an option.
“At Pullman regional Hospital, we use what’s called Telestroke, a service through Sacred Heart. A neurologist can assess the patient over a video monitor and decide what treatment would be best. If the patient is having a hemorrhagic stroke, they may need a surgical procedure to repair or remove the vessel,” notes Knewbow.
Know Your Risk Factors for Stroke
Knowing stroke risk factors—such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking—is key for stroke prevention. If all three of these are present, individuals should see their physician on a consistent basis. You can also do your own blood pressure checks or enlist community services for regular monitoring.
“Most fire stations will do free blood pressure checks. You can use those self-monitors at certain stores or pharmacies,” shares Knewbow. She also advises individuals eat a healthy diet and take steps to quit smoking.
Unfortunately, strokes do happen—even if you’re taking precautions. In that case, Knewbow urges people to remember that response time is critical. “The most important thing we want you to remember is to call 9-1-1 and to get to a hospital quickly. Time loss is brain loss. We want you to get to the ER so we can start helping you.”