May is National Stroke Awareness Month.
A stroke can happen in an instant, changing a person’s life forever. Strokes—80 percent of which are caused by a blood clot that blocks blood flow to the brain—are medical emergencies that require immediate attention. The earlier a stroke is recognized and treated, the greater the chance of recovery. Remembering the acronym FAST is an easy way to learn how to recognize a stroke and what to do to minimize its long-term damaging effects.
- F is for Face: Does the person’s face look uneven?
- A is for Arm: Is one arm hanging down?
- S is for Speech: Is the person’s speech slurred? Does the person have trouble speaking or seem confused?
- T is for Time: Call 911 now!
Other symptoms of a stroke include a sudden weakness or numbness in the face, arms, or legs, specifically on one side of the body; dizziness and trouble walking; loss of vision in one or both eyes; and a sudden severe headache that occurs for no apparent reason.
“When someone has a stroke, the person may show either slight or extremely noticeable physical changes,” says Randolph Marshall, MD, chief of the Stroke Division at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. “The most effective way to prevent the permanent damage associated with stroke is to recognize the signs of an attack and to seek medical attention immediately.”
Early treatment can prevent, and, in some cases, reverse damage caused by strokes, but only if treatment begins within a few hours of onset of symptoms. One of the most common treatments is tissue plasminogen activator (TPA), the only FDA-approved clot-dissolving drug for acute ischemic stroke. (Columbia’s Richard Axel, a 2004 Nobel Prize winner, helped discover the co-transformation process used to develop important drugs such as TPA.) The drug is injected into an artery or vein to dissolve the clot, restoring blood flow to the brain. Another treatment is revascularization, in which microcatheters are inserted into the artery to remove the blockages and reopen the artery. For all treatment options, early intervention can improve outcomes.
Stroke Prevention Tips
Taking the time to make a few simple lifestyle adjustments can save thousands of lives each year.
“Although stroke is very common and is the leading cause of disability in adults in the U.S., most can be attributed to modifiable risk factors,” says Dr. Ji Y. Chong, director of the Stroke Center at NewYork-Presbyterian/Lower Manhattan Hospital. “These are risk factors that can be controlled. Treatment of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiac arrhythmias, and diabetes can have a very high impact on lowering risk of stroke.” Several lifestyle changes can greatly reduce the risk of having a stroke:
- Reduce salt intake. High blood pressure is one of the leading causes of stroke. Cutting back on salt is one of the most significant steps to maintaining or lowering blood pressure to a healthy level of 130/80 or below. Try flavoring your food with a variety of spices that may be healthier than salt.
• Eat a heart-healthy diet. Maintaining a healthy balance between your good cholesterol (HDL) and bad cholesterol (LDL) is the best way to prevent high cholesterol, heart disease, and the increased risk of stroke. Cholesterol levels should remain at 200 mg/dl or below.
• Stop smoking. Smoking is bad not only for your lungs, but for your brain as well. A smoker is at twice the risk of having a stroke because smoking damages blood vessels, raises blood pressure, and speeds up the clogging of arteries.
• Exercise. If you are obese or overweight, you are not only more likely to develop high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes, you are more likely to have a stroke. Extra weight places an added strain on your entire circulatory system. Aerobic exercise helps reduce stroke risk and can be a good way to lose those extra pounds and substantially improve your health.
Certain populations are at a higher risk of having a stroke even after making the proper lifestyle changes. These include adults 55 years of age or older, African-Americans and Hispanics, those with a family history of stroke, and people who have already had a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (mini stroke). In addition, women are more likely to die from a stroke than men, although attacks are more common in men.
NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital treats one of the highest volumes of stroke and cerebrovascular disease patients in the world and the highest in NYC. The hospital has three state-designated Primary Stroke Centers. Stroke patients treated at high-volume centers with specialty trained physicians have the best survival and recovery rates.
In addition, NewYork-Presbyterian’s Stroke Centers have been awarded the Gold Plus award from American Heart Association and American Stroke Association for exceeding quality measures related to stroke treatment.
Department of Public Affairs
This article originally appeared on the NewYork-Presbyterian website.