Recognizing a "Brain Attack"
Would you know if someone sitting next to you was having a stroke? What about yourself? If you recognized the symptoms, what would you do? Acting quickly is key to reducing the chance of long-term physical and mental damage after the first signs of a "brain attack" or stroke. Every minute counts. As the third leading cause of death in America, the likelihood of dealing with stroke is greater than you might think. Save yourself or a friend by knowing the facts.
A stroke occurs when there is an interruption in the blood supply to the brain-cutting off oxygen and nutrients that brain cells need to function. Most often, strokes are caused by a blood clot that blocks a blood vessel or artery in the brain or when a blood vessel breaks. Therefore, fast action is critical. Getting to a hospital for treatment within 60 minutes of a stroke can prevent serious disability. If you notice or experience the following distinct, sudden symptoms of a stroke, call 911:
- Slurring or loss of speech, trouble talking or understanding what others are saying
- Sudden weakness, paralysis, numbness or "pins and needles" tingling in the face, arm or leg, usually on one side of the body
- Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Unexplained dizziness, loss of balance and sudden difficulty walking
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
"Be aware that, as a bystander, someone who is having a stroke might simply look suddenly confused or unaware of their surroundings due to the stroke's effect on the brain," says David Reisler, MD, neurologist at St. Luke's Hospital's Stroke Center. "Learn the symptoms. If you suspect a stroke, take action immediately and do not rely on the victim's ability to make decisions for themselves."
For the majority of strokes, there are immediate treatments that can help save people's lives and greatly enhance the chance for recovery. However, as is the case with most diseases, prevention is the best medicine. Risk factors that increase the chance of stroke include: high blood pressure or hypertension, uncontrolled diabetes, smoking, high cholesterol, a family history of stroke and increasing age. Experiencing a previous "mini-stroke," called a TIA, also poses a risk for a major stroke if it goes untreated.
"Although we cannot control our age or family history, we can practice positive lifestyle habits that may reduce our chances of stroke," says Dr. Reisler. "These habits are not complicated, they just require a little focus and determination."
According to the National Stroke Association, stroke is one of the most preventable of all life-threatening health problems. To reduce your chance of stroke:
- Exercise daily for 30 minutes or more,
- Quit smoking,
- Maintain systolic blood pressure of less than 140,
- Eat a healthy diet low in calories, and
- Reduce alcohol intake to one or no servings a day.
The effects of a stroke can be devastating - for the patient and their family. Take preventive action now and be aware of the symptoms. If you notice the symptoms in yourself or someone around you, take action. Remember, every minute can make a significant difference and, if treated immediately, could allow for complete recovery.
For more information about St. Luke's Physician Referral Service or for a free Physician and Service Directory, please call 314-205-6060.