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Around Our Town...To Your Health - Strokes

05/01/2005 - Stroke: What you don't know can hurt you.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month. It is important to know the risk factors and warning signs because the quicker you are able to get treatment, the less debilitating the stroke may be. Stroke affects about 700,00 Americans each year and it is the third leading cause of mortality in this country accounting for one out of every 15 deaths. Stroke is caused by the sudden interruption of blood flow to the brain, either by occlusion (ischemic stroke) or rupture (hemorrhagic stroke) of a blood vessel. There are about 5.4 million people alive who have had a stroke so it is not surprising that stroke is among the leading causes of long-term disability in adults. The price tag for stroke and its complications this year is expected to exceed $56 billion1.

It is important to know your risk factors and have regular medical check-ups. As with heart diseases, there are key preventative measures you can take. There are risk factors that you have no control over and can do little about, such as age, gender and heredity. Knowing you are at risk may make you more alert of the initial warning signs of a stroke. There are however some risk factors that you do have some control over. Obesity, diabetes, cholesterol, excessive alcohol intake, illegal drug use, high blood pressure and tobacco use can increase your risk of having a stroke but the good news is, these are factors that you can control.

In the event that a person does have a stoke, there may be treatments that can lessen the devastating effects. As the American Stroke Association reminds us, "time lost is brain lost." The less time that elapses' the better the chances of a positive outcome. A procedure called local catheter-directed thrombolysis can be performed within six hours of a sudden blockage of a major cerebral artery. A patient coming to Wyoming Medical Center with an acute embolic (blood clot) stroke will undergo a perfusion CT and a CT angiogram. These tests take only a few minutes to complete and give a quick overview of the blood vessels in the head and neck. Once a decision is made to treat a patient with this procedure, a small catheter is placed in the cerebral artery and a clot-busting agent is delivered directly into the blood clot, the results can be seen in a few minutes.

The key to minimizing the damage that can occur from a stroke is to seek medical treatment as soon as possible. There are treatments that can reduce the risk of damage from stroke but they only work if you get help within the first few hours. According to the American Stroke Association, the most common stroke warning signs include:

-Sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body

-Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding

-Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

-Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination

-Sudden, severe headaches with no known cause

If you experience any of these warning signs call 911 immediately!

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