Stroke Awareness MonthAccording to the American Stroke Association, a stroke is the leading cause of serious disability in the U.S. and is the second leading cause of death worldwide. The American Stroke Association is a division of the American Heart Association and is dedicated to saving people from death and disability due to stroke. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, states that stroke is the cause of death for nearly 150,000 Americans each year, out of the 860,000 Americans who die from cardiovascular disease annually.

A stroke is also called a “brain attack”, as it causes brain tissue to die which can lead to brain damage, disability, and death. A stroke can occur in two different ways, either from a blocked artery or a ruptured artery. The two types of stroke are:

Ischemic stroke – a blocked artery blocks the supply of blood to the brain
Hemorrhagic stroke – a ruptured artery in the brain bursts

A third type of stroke is a temporary stroke that does not cause permanent damage and is called a transient ischemic attack (TIA). A TIA should be taken as a serious warning that should be checked by a doctor and could be a signal that a full-blown stroke could occur. Anyone who experienced a TIA, an ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke is at a greater risk for having another stroke.

Risk of Stroke

There are several risk factors that could be beyond our control for having a stroke, although there are many things that you can do to prevent a stroke from happening to you. Some things beyond our control are sex, ethnicity, and age. Women are at a higher risk of stroke than men due to pregnancy, preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy), birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy.  Diabetes is more common in African American women, raising the risk of stroke, and more than 70% of all strokes occur after the age of 65.

Signs of a Stroke

A good reminder to recognize the symptoms of a stroke are to remember the acronym: F-A-S-T.

F – face drooping. Ask the person to smile and look for one side of the face drooping.
A – arm weakness. Ask the person to raise their arms, look for one arm drifting down.
S – speech difficulty. Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence and listen for slurred words.
T – time to call 9-1-1. Do not hesitate to call 9-1-1 if any of these symptoms are present.

Women and men both experience the same general symptoms of a stroke, although women may also experience more subtle warning signs. Both men and women can experience face drooping, arm weakness and speech difficulty, women may also experience general weakness, fatigue, disorientation, confusion, memory problems, nausea or vomiting. Additional symptoms of stroke experienced by both men and women can be a severe, sudden headache with no apparent cause, trouble in one or both eyes, sudden numbness in the face, arms or legs and trouble walking.

Quick response is crucial to treat a stroke victim. Paramedics can begin the proper treatment in the ambulance.

Preventing a Stroke

While some risk factors are out of your control, the biggest risk factors that cause a stroke are within your control and there are many things that you can do to ward off the possibility of having a stroke. The biggest thing you can do is to quit smoking or using tobacco products. Stopping smoking, not drinking alcohol in excess, and getting enough exercise are three of the most important lifestyle changes that you can make to lower your risk of stroke. If you have high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol, speak with your doctor about managing your conditions.

Management and Treatment of Stroke

A powerful blood thinner called Tissue Plasminogen Activator (tPA), (Alteplase, Activase®) was approved by the FDA in 1996 for treatment of stroke. tPA is shown to improve the outcome for people who have had a stroke if administered within three hours of the onset of a stroke. This is why recognition of stroke symptoms and F-A-S-T response are critical. Learn more about tPA, who might be a candidate and medical conditions that would be considered a contraindication, or dangerous for tPA treatment.

Greater Waterbury Imaging Center cares about your health and wellness, and urges everyone to quit smoking, eat healthy and exercise to ward of stroke and many other diseases. Make sure that you recognize the signs of a stroke and act quickly by calling 9-1-1 to greatly improve the outcome of any stroke patient. Contact us for all your MR imaging needs.