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
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
Sudden difficulty speaking or understanding; sudden
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.
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.
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
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
Why is this considered a medical
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
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.
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.