Statistics usually tell a pretty good story. So, here are a few to ponder.
— Knowing stroke symptoms and getting immediate medical attention are key to saving brain function.
— About 2 million nerve cells are lost for every minute strokes go untreated.
— Nearly 800,000 Americans will have a stroke this year. That’s enough people to fill Busch Stadium nearly 18 times.
— Stroke is the leading cause of disability in America and the fifth-leading cause of death.
“With improved stroke treatment, which is more specialized today than 20 years ago, the death rate from stroke has declined,” said Dr. Bradley Stoner, emergency room physician at Ste. Genevieve County Memorial Hospital (SGCMH). “However, we still face the major hurdle of people recognizing symptoms and understanding that strokes are medical emergencies.”
In 2013, the American Heart Association introduced the F.A.S.T acronym and its awareness has steadily increased from 24 percent to 47 percent. This means nearly 50 percent of people are somewhat familiar with it.
Now an improved acronym — B.E. F.A.S.T. — may help even more in the recognition of strokes.
Let’s spell it out.
Balance — Is there a sudden loss of balance or coordination?
Eyes — Is there sudden blurred or double vision or sudden, persistent vision trouble?
Face — Ask the person to smile. Is one or both sides of the face drooping?
Arms — Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one side drift downward? Is there weakness or numbness on one side?
Speech — Does the person have slurred or garbled speech? Can he or she repeat simple phrases?
Time — Call 911 for immediate medical attention if you notice one or more of these signs.
“I can’t overstate the importance of the ‘T’ for time factor, Stoner said. “It’s the only part of the acronym that isn’t a symptom, but it’s vital to include — because quick action is key to treatments that can be offered for strokes. The faster a person who’s suffered a stroke gets medical attention, the greater the chance we can save a life and reverse the long-term effects of stroke.”
Stoner also explained that a person who has a stroke may not necessarily exhibit all of the symptoms and sometimes stroke symptoms can be very subtle.
He said there are two types of strokes, and time is vital to successful treatment in both cases.
The first type is ischemic stroke, which occurs when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel in the brain. About 85 percent of all strokes in the United States are ischemic. A transient ischemic attack (TIA) happens when blood flow to part of the brain is blocked or reduced, but, after a short time, blood flow returns, and the symptoms go away. Some people call these mini strokes.
The other type of stroke — hemorrhagic stroke — represents the other 15 percent of all stroke cases and yet is responsible for about 40 percent of all stroke deaths. During a hemorrhagic stroke, blood spills into or around the brain, creates swelling and pressure, and damages brain cells and tissue.
However, many strokes can be prevented according to Stoner.
“Stroke prevention starts with a proper diet, plenty of exercise, and a healthy lifestyle,” Stoner said. “In some cases, medication may be an option to reduce stroke risk factors. If you or someone you love is at risk for stroke, it’s not too late to make lifestyle changes, starting now.
“High blood pressure is the single greatest risk factor many people can control. It’s a good idea to check your blood pressure regularly and work with your doctor to control it.”
Stoner listed other stroke risk factors:
- High cholesterol;
- Heart disease;
- Abnormal heart rhythm [atrial fibrillation, or AFib]. This is particularly important because in AFib the upper chamber of the beats in an uncontrolled fashion and allows blood clots to develop in that part of the heart.
Anyone can have a stroke at any age, but Stoner said certain things can increase your chances of having a stroke. The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from a stroke is to understand your risk and how to control it. Perhaps, most importantly, if a stroke occurs BE FAST in recognizing the symptoms and seek medical help without delay.
The SGCMH)emergency department is a member of the Mid America Stroke Network, founded by St. Louis University Hospital.
“We have immediate access to neurologists, not only at St. Louis University, but also at Mercy South Hospital, the former St. Anthony’s, which is a designated stroke center,” Stoner said. “At SGCMH we offer immediate treatment, we have access to the clot busting medications that can help reduce long-term disabilities associated with strokes and we also immediately transfer to these other high-level stroke centers.”
(Information in a release from Ste. Genevieve County Memorial Hospital.)