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Stroke Awareness: Don't Wait to Seek Care

By: Brian Peterson, MD, FACS, FSVS

May is Stroke Awareness Month, and strokes still happen during a pandemic. In fact, every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke. Worldwide, nearly 5 million people die from a stroke, and another 5 million are left permanently disabled every year. Yet, there was a 40% decline in patients seeking urgent or emergent care since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even with the fear of COVID-19, it is crucial to get care as soon as possible to prevent the chance of a future stroke.

Strokes affect more than 795,000 people in the United States every year with over 100,000 of these individuals passing away from this medical emergency. With early action being one of the key indicators for surviving strokes, it is vital to recognize the symptoms and stop stroke before it happens through preventative measures. The FAST acronym (Face, Arm, Speech and Time) reiterates the importance of quickly identifying someone's symptoms:
  • F: Face Drooping  Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person's smile uneven?
  • A: Arm Weakness — Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • S: Speech — Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like "The sky is blue."
  • T: Time to Call 9-1-1 — If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital immediately. Check the time so you'll know when the first symptoms appeared. 
While there are many different causes of stroke, there are simple things one can do to prevent stroke or significantly reduce the likelihood of a stroke leading to permanent disability or death. After all, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 80% of strokes are preventable.

Up to two-thirds of the patients that we operated on with severe carotid artery blockages don’t have any symptoms, yet they are at very high risk for stroke. This is why it is so important to see your primary care physician on a regular basis and undergo screening for carotid artery disease if you have significant risk factors.

For more information, visit stlukes-stl.com/services/stroke-care.

Brian Peterson, MD, FACS, FSVS, is a board-certified vascular surgeon practicing at St. Luke's Heart and Vascular Institute.