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May is Stroke Awareness Month: Learn the Signs and Symptoms

The first three hours after an attack are crucial for successful treatment

Although the symptoms of stroke are distinct, too few stroke victims recognize them and seek help when a “brain attack” occurs. Signs of a stroke such as sudden and unexplained headaches, dizziness, muscle weakness, and feelings of confusion should cause an individual to seek immediate medical attention – just as chest pains do for someone experiencing a heart attack.

The most common form of stroke, ischemic stroke, occurs when the blood flow to the brain is cut off by a clot. The lack of oxygen causes brain cells to die. As a result the body functions controlled by the dying cells are affected, sometimes permanently. Depending upon the severity of the stroke and how long treatment is delayed, paralysis, loss of speech and/or memory, loss of vision, loss of reasoning skills, coma and even death can occur.

Stroke is the leading cause of adult disability in the United States and costs the nation more than $45 billion a year in direct and indirect costs, according to the National Stroke Association. More than 700 thousand Americans suffer a stroke each year; of those, approximately 160,000 are fatal. Atlantic General Hospital admits an average of 750 stroke victims for care each year.

Contrary to popular belief, time is of the essence for stroke victims. Stroke care is no longer just a matter of rehabilitation for those who survive. When caught within the first three hours of the onset of symptoms, the damaging effects of a stroke can now be halted. New treatments are available to break up blood clots in the brain, decreasing the amount of time that brain cells are deprived of oxygen.

“In years past, medical professionals were somewhat powerless to fight the onslaught of a stroke,” said Dr. Nicholas Bordulia, medical director of the Stroke Center under development at Atlantic General Hospital. “More emphasis was placed on physical and speech therapy to improve motor skills and help patients regain their quality of life after an event.”

“Now, there is so much more we can do, but it’s imperative that people in the community recognize the signs and symptoms of a stroke so they can get to the hospital as soon as possible. That three-hour time-frame is crucial for successful treatment.”

Some common signs of stroke:
• Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
• Sudden confusion; trouble speaking or understanding
• Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
• Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
• Sudden severe headache with no known cause

If you or someone you love is experiencing any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately. Too many wait as long as one or two days after an attack to seek medical attention. By this time, even the latest advances in stroke care cannot reverse the damage.

Strokes and the mild transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), otherwise known as mini-strokes, that precede them thirty-three percent of the time, can occur at any age. However, they are more common for individuals over the age of 55 and for males, African Americans, diabetics, and those with a family history of stroke.

These risk factors are unavoidable, but lifestyle changes and medical treatments can reduce other factors such as high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity and excessive alcohol consumption.

For more information about stroke prevention and awareness, please contact Karen Christmas, Clinical Leader of the Stroke Center at Atlantic General Hospital, at 410-641-9131.