May is Stroke Awareness Month. Every year, more than 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke. This is why Westmed Neurologist, Dr. Billy Yung, is sharing the reasons you need to act F.A.S.T if you suspect someone is having a stroke.
A stroke is a brain injury caused by decreased blood flow to the brain. Blood travels to the brain through arteries, providing oxygen and nutrients. If there is a disruption of blood flow in one of the arteries, the part of the brain supplied by that artery can become damaged. In the majority of cases, the disruption is due to the presence of a clot in the artery clogging the blood flow. This is called an ischemic stroke. When people use the term “stroke”, they are usually referring to an ischemic stroke because about 87% of all strokes are ischemic strokes.
Why You Need to Be F.A.S.T
It is critical to recognize the hallmark symptoms of a stroke and seek immediate medical attention as soon as possible if you are experiencing the symptoms listed below. A stroke can potentially be life-threatening, but there are treatments available that can potentially reverse the symptoms of a stroke and restore regular blood flow to the brain. However, many of these treatments can only be used within a certain time period after the stroke occurs. So if a stroke patient arrives to the ER too late, they may be ineligible for treatment.
There are many different sized arteries in the brain – some are large, some small, some supply blood to critical parts of the brain, while others are involved in more subtle brain functions. If the stroke affects a major artery, the symptoms would be very obvious and debilitating. Other times, a stroke can occur without the patient even noticing.
While a stroke can potentially cause many different symptoms, some are more common. There is a mnemonic to help remember the common signs of a stroke: “BE FAST”. If any of these symptoms occur suddenly, it is important to “be fast” and call 911 immediately.
An ER team will work with a patient experiencing a stroke to determine the treatment options most appropriate for that individual. These potentially life-saving treatments include:
- IV tPA (“Clot Busting Medication”): This medication aims to break up the clot and unclog a blocked artery, and can be given up to 4.5 hours after stroke onset.
- Mechanical Thrombectomy: If a clot is large enough, a surgical procedure can be performed to remove the clot via an arterial catheter. This procedure is typically performed within 6 hours of stroke onset, but an ER team can determine if this procedure would be helpful after this time frame.
An important detail to these “time windows” is that it is always better to receive treatment as early as possible within the time window.
One of the best ways to “treat” a stroke is to take action today to reduce your risk for a stroke from even occurring. There are many risk factors for stroke, including hypertension (high blood pressure), hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol), and diabetes (high blood sugar). It is important to see your primary care doctor regularly to monitor for these conditions and, if they do occur, to keep them under control. Some goals you will want to aim for include: BMI of 25 or under, regular daily exercise (like walking), and decreasing elevated blood pressure.
Another modifiable risk factor is cigarette smoking. Speak with your primary care doctor about recommended methods for smoking cessation. By avoiding and managing risk factors, you can reduce your chances of experiencing a stroke.