Hamza A. Shaikh, MD
Co-Director, Endovascular Neurosurgery
Cooper Neurological Institute
Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States and the #1 leading cause of adult disability. (Kochanek KD, 2014) (Mozzafarian D, 2015). Stroke occurs when blood flow is blocked to the brain either by a clot or ruptured vessel, which causes blood, nutrients and oxygen supply to the brain tissue to be interrupted, and results in cellular death. On average, one American dies of a stroke every four minutes (Mozzafarian D, 2015) and every 40 seconds someone has a stroke (American Heart Association, 2015). Onset of a stroke is an emergency and quick transport to a stroke hospital is key to treating stroke and preventing further deterioration in health.
Major strokes can be easily detected by any person in the community if they remember the acronym FAST. FAST stands for Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, and Time to call 911. To perform this evaluation, the family member can ask the person to smile, raise both hands, and repeat a simple sentence. If the person has any problems with these questions then you should call 9-1-1 and remember the time the symptoms started.
A new survey by the National Stroke Association revealed that 66 percent of Americans fear brain damage the most. However, what people fail to realize is that by controlling modifiable risk factors 80 percent of strokes can be prevented (Diones, 2015). Regular doctor visits are the best way to keep risk factors in control. The four major risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Other factors such as abnormal heart beats and a family history of strokes are also risk factors that can be evaluated by your primary care physician. Eating well, exercising at least three times a week and visiting your doctor regularly can help prevent strokes.
Time is brain when it comes to stroke treatment, and therefore transport to a hospital which offers advanced stroke treatment is crucial. There are many new, state-of-the-art treatments available for patients who have a stroke within a designated time window before the part of the brain without blood flow has completely died. There is a clot-busting drug called TPA which helps dissolve a clot within four hours of a stroke. Mechanical devices that aspirate a clot or physically remove it are also available at tertiary and comprehensive stroke centers for patients who are beyond the four-hour window. Four recent trials published in the New England Journal of Medicine and presented at the stroke conference in Nashville, TN, have not only proven but given clear evidence that these types of treatment for a select group of individuals are now the new standard of care.