In observance of Stroke Awareness Month (May), Cooper University Hospital reminds you that stroke – or “brain attack” – is a medical emergency that requires prompt and immediate action. If you suspect a stroke, don’t wait. Call 911 immediately.
Stroke occurs when the blood supply to a part of the brain is interrupted or severely reduced, depriving brain tissue of oxygen and nutrients. Within a few minutes, brain cells begin to die. The parts of the body controlled by these oxygen-starved brain cells are then affected, resulting in possible paralysis, memory loss, speech difficulties or even death.
When a blood vessel is blocked by a clot, the event is called an ischemic stroke. About 80 percent of all strokes are ischemic. Clots form when plaque (cholesterol and other substances) builds up on the inner lining of an artery. Sometimes clots can be caused by a condition called atrial fibrillation (commonly called A-Fib), in which the upper chambers of the heart beat irregularly, causing blood to pool and form a clot.
When a blood vessel inside the brain bursts and leaks blood into surrounding tissue, the event is called a hemorrhagic stroke. An aneurysm (weakened area in the artery wall) can cause a hemorrhagic stroke, but frequently the cause is high blood pressure, which stresses the artery walls to the point of rupture. A hemorrhagic stroke is more likely to be fatal.
“Hypertension (high blood pressure) is so damaging to the walls of blood vessels in the brain that stroke can occur,” said Thomas R. Mirsen, M.D., Director of the Cooper Stroke Program.
Like high blood pressure, other risk factors for stroke, such as cigarette smoking, obesity, undesirable levels of blood cholesterol, coronary artery disease and diabetes, can be controlled or managed. By having health problems diagnosed and treated early, and by living a healthy lifestyle, you can dramatically reduce your risk of stroke. That’s especially important considering that stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States (only heart disease and cancer cause more deaths annually) and also the leading cause of serious, long-term disability among adults.
Know the Signs of Stroke
Stroke is a medical emergency. Prompt treatment of a stroke could mean the difference between life and death. Early treatment also can minimize damage to the brain and reduce disability. Knowing the signs and symptoms of stroke can make it possible to get medical help right away. Do not wait to see if symptoms pass or worsen. Know the signs and act fast.
The signs and symptoms of stroke usually occur suddenly; frequently there is more than one.
Know the signs:
- Sudden numbness, weakness or paralysis of your face, arm or leg—usually on one side of the body
- Sudden difficulty speaking or understanding speech
- Sudden blurred, double or decreased vision
- Sudden dizziness, loss of balance or loss of coordination
- A sudden, severe, “bolt out of the blue” headache or an unusual headache, which may be accompanied by a stiff neck, facial pain, pain between the eyes, vomiting or altered consciousness
- Confusion, or problems with memory, spatial orientation or perception
If you observe or experience any of these symptoms, do not wait. Call 911 immediately.
And remember: The signs and symptoms of a “mini stroke” – a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which is a temporary interruption of blood flow to a part of the brain – are the same as for full-blown stroke but last for a shorter period of time. Signs and symptoms of a mini stroke can last from a few minutes to an hour to 24 hours, and then disappear without leaving any apparent effects. A TIA is a warning sign that a person is at risk for a more serious and possibly debilitating stroke. People can have more than one TIA, with signs and symptoms being similar or different at each occurrence. Because there is no way to tell whether symptoms are from a TIA or from an acute stroke, observers and sufferers should assume that all stroke-like symptoms signal an emergency, and act immediately. While treatment itself depends on the type of stroke—ischemic, hemorrhagic, or TIA, the use of intravenously administered clot-busting drugs must begin within three hours of the stroke event.
At Cooper University Hospital, our comprehensive medical team treats stroke as a severe medical emergency. Our experienced staff of emergency room physicians, neurologists, neurosurgeons, radiologists, nurses and laboratory technicians is available seven days a week, 24-hours a day to treat a brain attack appropriately. Remember that the key to survival is early access to medical care. Upon onset of symptoms, be certain to go to an emergency room within the first hour. Time is prevention. Do not wait. Call 911 immediately.