Know the Signs of Stroke

Sandy Tschosik, RN
St. Alexius Community Health Services Coordinator

StrokeAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 795,000 Americans are expected to have a stroke this year. Stroke is a leading cause of death and serious long term disability.  The financial impact of stroke in the United States is approximately $38.6 billion per year in health care services, medications and missed days of work.

Stroke is a type of cardiovascular disease that affects the brain. The brain needs a continuous supply of oxygen and nutrients in order to function.  Stroke results when the blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients to the brain become blocked or suddenly rupture.  When the brain is deprived of oxygen, the affected brain tissue begins to die. Depending upon how long the brain goes without oxygen and which part of the brain is affected, complications such as paralysis, difficulty talking or swallowing, memory or cognitive impairment and behavioral changes could be temporary or permanent.

There are different types of stroke. The majority of strokes are ischemic. This occurs when the arteries of the brain become narrowed or blocked by plaque, a blood clot or an embolism (a clot that forms elsewhere in the body and becomes lodged in an artery in the brain). A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures or leaks.  This can be the result of high blood pressure or an aneurysm. A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is often referred to as a “mini-stroke.”  TIAs are caused by a temporary interruption of blood supply to the brain. Symptoms are similar to a stroke and can last from a few minutes to several hours.  Although a TIA is temporary and patients usually fully recover, this is often a warning that a more serious stroke could occur in the future.

Stroke can affect anyone at any age. However, your chances of having a stroke increase if you have the following risk factors:

  • Older than 55 years
  • Prior TIA or stroke or family history of stroke
  • African or Hispanic American
  • Male
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Heart disease, including atrial fibrillation
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Carotid artery disease
  • Smoking
  • Overweight and physically inactive
  • High cholesterol
  • Heavy or binge drinking
  • Birth control or illegal drug use

It is very important to recognize the warning signs of stroke. According to the American Heart Association these include sudden:

  • Weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.
  • Confusion and difficulty speaking or understanding.
  • Trouble seeing with one or both eyes.
  • Trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
  • Severe headache with no apparent cause.

If you believe someone is having a stroke, think F.A.S.T.

F = FACE: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A = ARMS: Ask the person to raise both arms. Is one arm drifting downward?
S = SPEECH: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or does it sound strange?
T = TIME: If you notice any of these symptoms, call 9-1-1 IMMEDIATELY!!

Time lost = brain lost. Stroke is a medical emergency.  Immediate treatment saves lives and improves the chance for a successful recovery.  However, the best treatment for stroke is prevention.  Take your risk factors seriously. If you have high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes or high cholesterol, keep them under control. Lose weight by eating healthy and getting active, and if you smoke, quit! If you have any questions or concerns about your risk factors, talk to your health care provider.

Click here to learn about the Stroke Center at St. Alexius.