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more articles by Stackman, Jody , MD  |  author's bio

Brain Attack: When Minutes Count

By Jody Stackman, MD

 

Every 40 seconds someone in the United States suffers a stroke. In the US, strokes are the third leading cause of death, following heart disease and cancer, and the second leading cause of dementia. There are more than 700,000 new strokes occurring each year.

 

Are there different types of stroke?

 

There are two different types of stroke, ischemic and hemorrhagic. Eighty percent of strokes are ischemic. They occur when there is a blockage in the artery proving blood to the brain. The blockage may be caused by a clot or by a buildup of plaque in the arteries. Ischemic strokes can also occur as a result of heart problems, when no blood is being pumped to the brain, depriving it of oxygen.

 

Hemorrhagic strokes occur when there is bleeding into or outside of the brain. The former typically occurs when blood leaks from small arteries in the brain or from vascular malformation, the latter from aneurysms. High blood pressure is a significant factor for both, weakening blood vessel walls.

 

What are the signs of a stroke?

 

There are a number of common symptoms to look for. These are symptoms that come on suddenly. Not all symptoms occur with every stroke. Sometimes the symptoms begin to subside after a few minutes; nevertheless, you should still consider this to be a medical emergency.

-          Sudden difficulty speaking or understanding; sudden confusion

-          Sudden difficulty swallowing

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

-          Sudden difficulty seeing out of one or both eyes

-          Sudden severe headache

 

Is there a quick, easy way to tell if someone is having a stroke?

 

Yes, there is an easy test for signs of stroke. One is called the Cincinnati Stroke Scale. If a person exhibits any one of these three signs, there is a 72 percent probability he or she is having a stroke.

 

1)     Facial droop: When you ask the person to smile or show his teeth, one side of the face droops or does not move as well as the other side.

2)     Arm drift: When you ask the person to close her eyes and extend both arms out with palms up for 10 seconds, one arm either moves or drifts downwards.

3)     Abnormal speech: When you ask the person to repeat a short sentence, such as “a stitch in time saves nine,” the speech is slurred or the person can’t produce the sentence.

 

What should I do if someone is having a stroke?

 

Immediately call 911 and transport the person to the nearest medical center Emergency Department. Cayuga Medical Center, which serves Tompkins and adjacent counties, is a Certified Stroke Center. Bear in mind that people who have just suffered a stroke are often in denial and may not want an ambulance called, but you should insist on getting immediate medical attention.

 

Why is this considered a medical emergency?

 

Every minute counts following a stroke. Brain cells require oxygen and glucose to survive. The longer the brain is deprived of these, the more likely and more extensive brain damage will be sustained. The sooner the patient is transported to the Emergency Department, the sooner the stroke team can diagnose the type of stroke and initiate treatment.

 

Are there steps I can take to reduce my risks for stroke?

 

Yes, you can take steps to reduce your risks for stroke. If you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, vascular disease, or diabetes, work closely with your doctor to effectively address and manage these conditions. If you use tobacco, ask your doctor for help to quit. If you have been diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation), talk with a cardiologist about how best to manage it. If you have previously had a stroke or transient ischemic attack, you should be on some prophylactic treatment.

 

Dr. Stackman is board certified in neurology and is director of the Certified Stroke Center at Cayuga Medical Center. He is in practice with Cayuga Neurologic Services where he can be reached at (607) 273-6757.

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