A stroke can strike in an instant, but can change a person’s life forever. Strokes — 80 percent of which are caused by a blood clot that blocks blood flow to the brain — are medical emergencies that require immediate attention. The earlier a stroke is recognized and treated, the greater the chance of recovery. Remembering the acronym FAST is an easy way to learn how to recognize a stroke and what to do to minimize its long-term damaging effects.
- F is for Face: Does the person’s face look uneven?
- A is for Arm: Is one arm hanging down?
- S is for Speech: Is the person’s speech slurred? Other signs of stroke include confusion or trouble speaking.
- T is for Time: Call 911 now!
Other signs of a stroke are a sudden weakness or numbness in the face, arms or legs, specifically on one side of the body; dizziness and trouble walking; loss of vision in one or both of the eyes; or a sudden severe headache that occurs for no apparent reason.
“When someone has a stroke, they may show either slight or extremely noticeable physical changes,” says Dr. Randolph Marshall, chief of the Stroke Division at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center. “The most effective way to prevent the permanent damage associated with stroke is to recognize the signs of an attack and to seek medical attention immediately.”
Early treatment can prevent, and in some cases reverse, damage caused by strokes. One of the most common treatments is tissue plasminogen activator (t-PA), the only FDA-approved clot-dissolving drug for acute ischemic stroke. The drug is injected into an artery or vein to dissolve the clot, restoring blood flow to the brain. Another treatment is revascularization, in which microcatheters are inserted into the artery to remove the blockages and reopen the artery. For all treatment options, early intervention can improve outcomes.
Stroke Prevention Tips
Taking the time to make a few simple lifestyle adjustments can save thousands of lives each year.
“Stroke statistics are sobering: it’s the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and the leading cause of adult disabilities,” says Dr. Babak Navi, director of the Stroke Center at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “On average, someone dies of stroke every four minutes. The good news is that approximately 80 percent of strokes can be prevented.”
Several lifestyle changes can greatly reduce the risk of having a stroke:
- Reduce salt intake. High blood pressure is one of the leading causes of stroke. Cutting back on salt is one of the most significant steps to maintaining or lowering blood pressure to a healthy level of 120/80 or below. Try flavoring your food with a variety of spices that may be healthier than salt.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet. Maintaining a healthy balance between your good cholesterol (HDL) and bad cholesterol (LDL) is the best way to prevent high cholesterol, heart disease and the increased risk of stroke. Cholesterol levels should remain at 200 mg/dl or below.
- Stop smoking. Smoking is bad not only for your lungs but your brain as well. A smoker is at twice the risk of having a stroke because smoking damages blood vessels, raises blood pressure and speeds up the clogging of arteries.
- Exercise. If you are obese or overweight, your risk for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes increases and so does your risk for a stroke. Extra weight places an added strain on your entire circulatory system, but aerobic exercise helps reduce stroke risk and can be a good way to lose those extra pounds and substantially improve your health.
Certain populations are at a higher risk of having a stroke even after making the proper lifestyle changes. These include adults 55 years of age or older, African-Americans and Hispanics, those with a family history of stroke, and people who have already had a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (mini stroke). In addition, women are more likely to die from a stroke than men, although attacks are more common in men.
NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital treats one of the highest volumes of stroke and cerebrovascular disease patients in the world and the highest in NYC. The hospital has three state-designated Primary Stroke Centers. Stroke patients treated at high-volume centers with specialty-trained physicians have the best survival and recovery rates.
In addition, NewYork-Presbyterian’s Stroke Centers have been awarded the Gold Plus award from American Heart Association (AHA) and American Stroke Association (ASA) for exceeding quality measures related to stroke treatment.
Source: NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital