This story was originally published in BWH Health Hub.
The American Stroke Association estimates that a stroke occurs every 40 seconds. It is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. Here is some valuable information from our multidisciplinary stroke team that can help save lives.
Anyone can have a stroke.
Many people assume that stroke only happens in older adults, but it can occur at any age, even in children.
Time is critical.
Stroke deprives brain tissue of essential oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood, resulting in the death of brain cells. Every minute is critical. The faster a stroke patient receives treatment, the better the chance of recovery. That is why recognizing the signs of stroke is so important.
The acronym FAST (face, arms, speech, and time) is a quick way to determine if someone is having a stroke. Difficulty smiling completely, lifting both arms, and repeating a simple phrase are warning signs of stroke. Note the time and call 911 immediately. Typical symptoms of stroke include sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arms, or legs, especially on one side of the body; confusion or difficulty speaking or understanding; vision loss or dimness; balance or coordination problems; difficulty moving or walking; severe headache with no other known cause; or loss of consciousness or seizure.
Treatment is specific to stroke type.
Strokes fall into two major categories – ischemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke. An ischemic stroke is caused by a clot that blocks blood flow to the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes occur when a blood vessel that supplies blood to brain ruptures and bleeds. Stroke treatment depends on the stroke type. The gold standard treatment for ischemic stroke is thrombolytic therapy (also called “clot-busting” therapy or tPA). Generally, thrombolytic therapy must be provided within three hours of the onset of symptoms. When thrombolytic therapy is not effective or appropriate, other treatment options are available. One of the newest minimally invasive treatments for ischemic stroke includes the use of a mesh stent retriever that restores blood flow to the brain and removes the blood clot. In hemorrhagic stroke, repair of the source of bleeding and control of pressure within the skull are both important aspects of treatment.
Prevention is vital.
Up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented. The key to prevention is identifying and reducing controllable risk factors, including high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, high cholesterol, diabetes, atherosclerosis, circulation issues, smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity. The presence of a brain aneurysm (bulging in the wall of the blood vessel) is a risk for hemorrhagic stroke. If you have any of these risk factors, talk with your doctor about how to address and reduce these risks.