Minutes matter when it comes to stroke

dr -irfan-altafullahThe statistics around stroke are staggering. Each year over 130,000 people in the United States die after experiencing a stroke and according to the Minnesota Department of health, since 2005, the number of stroke hospitalizations has remained between 11,000 and 12,000 a year. For minorities, the numbers are even more alarming. Minorities have higher stroke risks, stroke occurrence at an earlier age and, for some, more severe strokes.

Although certain risk factors for stroke, such as genetics or family history cannot be controlled, others such as high blood pressure or diabetes can go unrecognized. African Americans are more impacted by stroke than any other racial groups within the American population. African Americans are twice as likely to die from stroke as then Caucasians.

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel going to the brain is disrupted either by a blood clot or a ruptured vessel. This process is similar to that which occurs in a heart attack. Deprived of oxygen, the cells in the affected area of the brain cannot function and often die. The parts of the body controlled by those cells are then unable to function.

When a stroke does occur, timing is everything! Every minute counts – treatment within three hours of the first symptom is the most effective for reducing long-term damage from a stroke and preventing death. And treatment within the “golden hour” of a patient arriving at a hospital and receiving the appropriate treatment is crucial in the management of an acute stroke.

Risk Factors

Knowing your risk factors for stroke and controlling them is the first step in preventing a stroke. Although some risk factors, like genetics or family history, cannot be controlled other risk factors should be monitored and regulated. Research points to the following risk factors as major contributors to stroke:

• High blood pressure: As the number one risk factor for stroke, 1 in 3 African-Americans suffer from high blood pressure.
• High Cholesterol: The buildup of cholesterol or plaque in the arteries block normal blood flow to the brain
• Diabetes: People with diabetes have a higher stroke risk.
• Smoking: Risk for stroke doubles when you smoke. If you stop smoking today, your stroke risk will immediately begin to decrease.
• Obesity: Adopting a lower-sodium (salt), lower-fat diet and becoming more physically active may help lower blood pressure and risk for stroke.

Signs of a Stroke

Because time is critical when it comes to stroke treatment, knowing the signs of stroke saves lives. The acronym F.A.S.T. is promoted by the American Heart Association as a common and easy way for recognizing and responding to a stroke. The letters in F.A.S.T. stand for:

Face Drooping – Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile uneven?
Arm Weakness – Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
Speech Difficulty – Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?
Time to call 9-1-1 – If you notice any of these symptoms, even if they go away, call 9-1-1 and get the person to the hospital right away. Be sure to check the time so you know when the symptoms first appeared.

May is American Stroke Month and a great time to not only make sure you are familiar with the signs of stroke but also be proactive about your health – especially if you are at risk for a stroke.

Ask your doctor about which tests you should have based on your age and other health factors. Your numbers provide a picture of your health status and your risk for certain diseases and conditions, so keep track of them. Learn more about our stroke program at At North Memorial we pride ourselves on being a Certified Comprehensive Stroke Center, which means we provide the highest level of stroke care and treatment, so if you have any concerns as far as stroke symptoms or questions call 763.581.CARE (763.581.2273) to make an appointment.

May 28, 2015
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