Take care of your risk factors and make sure loved ones are educated about the risks of stroke and controlling or reducing their own risk factors. Prevention is important, but early recognition and treatment of stroke can help minimize the damage to the brain and save lives.
What is a Stroke?
Stroke or "brain attack" is a medical problem that affects many men and women. It is the number three killer in South Carolina and the leading cause of adult disability in the United States.
Strokes are caused by problems with the circulation of blood flow in the brain. This can result either from a hemorrhage when a blood vessel bursts or from a blockage when a clot blocks the flow of blood to the brain.
There are warnings signs that indicate someone could potentially be experiencing a stroke. One or more of these symptoms may occur suddenly, disappearing within minutes, or remain for two hours. Even if they quickly disappear, they still require prompt evaluation. The most important warning signs are:
- Numbness or weakness on one side of the body
- Loss of vision in one eye or double vision
- Difficulty speaking or understanding language
- Sudden severe headache often described as "the worst headache in your life"
If the warning signs come and go within a couple of minutes, a call should be placed to your physician's office with a description of the symptoms experienced. The physician will be the guide to the appropriate evaluation. If these symptoms are persisting, call 911 for transport to an emergency department, - - especially a hospital with a stroke unit such as McLeod. Immediate action may be life and brain saving.
A transient ischemic attack (TIAs) is a warning sign of an impending stroke. The symptoms for TIA are the same as stroke, but do not cause permanent disability.
Diagnostic testing would be recommended for anyone at risk for a stroke to check for blockages in the carotid artery. The carotid arteries are located on each side of the neck and their function is to supply blood to the brain. When plaque builds up in the artery, and blood flow is reduced, it can cause a stroke. I encourage everyone over the age of 60 to talk to their primary care physician about a carotid screening and earlier if there is a family history of stroke.
The favored treatment option for a blocked carotid artery is the surgical removal of the plaque known as carotid endarterectomy. With endarterectomy, the chance of the artery becoming blocked again is minimal; the risk for stroke is less.