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Know the Symptoms – May is Stroke Awareness Month

May 17, 2018

Don’t Wait, Call 9-1-1 Before It's Too Late

The message for Stroke Awareness Month is clear. Better stroke outcomes begin with stroke recognition, and calling 9-1-1 immediately can make a difference.

Yet, calling 911 within one hour of symptoms is done in fewer than 50% of stroke cases and only 53% of stroke patients use emergency medical services.

“Time is crucial and the longer you wait, the more damage occurs to your brain cells,” said Dr. Edward Feldmann, vice president and medical director of Neurosciences and Rehabilitation at Baystate Health.

“The good news is that 80 percent of strokes can be prevented by treating your risk factors and leading a healthy lifestyle,” he added.

Two million brain cells die every minute during a stroke, increasing your risk of permanent brain damage, disability, or death. That’s why it is extremely important to be able to recognize stroke symptoms, because the drug t-PA, or tissue plasminogen activator, may help reduce the impact of an ischemic stroke (resulting from an obstruction within a blood vessel supplying blood to the brain) if it is administered within three hours of the initial stroke. Earlier is better, however, and the best results are within the first 90 minutes from stroke onset, noted Dr. Feldmann.

A New Record at Baystate Medical Center

Amazing teamwork at Baystate Medical Center led to a new record for door to CT scan time of 4 minutes for a recent stroke patient, with door to t-PA of 22 minutes. National guidelines call for door-to-imaging time (CT scan) within 25 minutes for suspected acute stroke patients and door to t-PA therapy should be 60 minutes or less.
Until recently, the clot busting drug t-PA was the only proven therapy to treat ischemic stroke. Now doctors nationwide have a new advanced procedure called thrombectomy, which is transforming care for those with an acute ischemic stroke. In western Massachusetts, this procedure is performed exclusively at Baystate Medical Center’s state-of-the-art neurointerventional laboratory.

Thrombectomy involves anesthetizing the patient, then inserting a thin metallic stent-like device into an artery in the leg. The surgeon then threads the device up to the blockage in the brain, where it opens to immediately restore blood circulation, eventually grabbing onto the clot and pulling it out.

“What is exciting is that thrombectomy offers an extended window of treatment for certain patients up to 24 hours after the onset of their stroke,” said Dr. Feldmann.

Every year some 795,000 people in the United States suffer a stroke – 140,000 of them will die – which occurs when blood vessels carrying oxygen to the brain are either blocked by a blood clot or rupture. More women have strokes than men, and twice as many African Americans have strokes than whites. And, stroke is the leading cause of adult long-term disability.

Yet, few Americans know the signs of stoke.

How to Recognize the Signs of Stroke

The following simple test can help you detect your own or someone else’s stroke symptoms and to Act FAST:

Face – Smile. Does one side of the face droop?
Arms – Hold both arms up evenly. Does one arm drift downward?
Speech – Repeat a simple sentence. Are the words slurred or mixed up?
Time – If you or someone else exhibits any of these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Other common stroke symptoms include:

  • Sudden weakness in the legs or 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

As for leading a healthy lifestyle to help prevent stroke, Dr. Feldmann said excess weight strains the circulatory system. Exercising five times a week is recommended along with maintaining a diet low in calories, salt, saturated and trans fats and cholesterol. Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables daily is also recommended.

Learn more about Baystate Health stroke care.