Despite being the third leading cause of death and the leading cause of adult disability in this country, fewer than one in five Americans can recognize a symptom of a stroke. May is National Stroke Awareness Month, a campaign designed to promote public education regarding the risks, signs and strategies to prevent strokes.
A stroke, or ''brain attack,'' occurs when blood and oxygen flow to the brain is interrupted by a blood clot or a broken blood vessel. This kills brain cells in the immediate area, often causing physical and emotional disabilities including speech problems, memory loss and paralysis. Those individuals most at risk of stroke include adults over 55 years of age, those who have already had a stroke or a mini stroke (transient ischemic attack), Hispanics and African-Americans, smokers and those with a family history of stroke. Women who smoke and use oral contraceptives have increased risk. Other major risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity. Men are more likely than women to have a stroke.
Acting fast is key to receiving proper treatment. It is important for people to be able to recognize the symptoms of stroke and immediately seek emergency medical attention upon symptom recognition. Emergency treatment with a clot-buster drug called t-PA can help minimize or completely eliminate these disabilities, but it must be given within three hours of the onset of symptoms. Recognizing stroke symptoms can be easy if you remember the ''Give me five for stroke'' components promoted by the American Academy of Neurology and the Brain Attack Coalition:
WALK: Is their balance off?
TALK: Is their speech slurred or face droopy?
REACH: Is one side weak or numb?
Together, Trinity Healthy Living and Trinity Cardiovascular Lab offer stroke screens for the community. The carotid vascular test utilizes ultrasound technology to visualize the build-up of fatty plaques in the carotid arteries that may block the flow of blood to the brain and lead to stroke. The ultrasound screen is a painless, non-invasive and highly accurate method for detecting risk of stroke. Seventy-five percent of all strokes are associated with carotid artery blockage, and more than half of all stroke victims present no warning signs.
Date and Time: June 1 and monthly on the second Monday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Location: Trinity Regional Medical Center
Register: Call My-Nurse at (877) 242-8899 or Trinity Healthy Living at (515) 574-6505 to schedule an appointment.
Cost: $35 per test
SEE: Is their vision all or partially lost?
FEEL: Is their headache severe?
If any of these stroke symptoms occur suddenly call 911!
There is still so much we don't know about how the brain can seemingly repair itself from the functional damage caused by stroke. Some brain cells may be only temporarily damaged and may resume functioning. In some cases, the brain can ''relearn'' what was lost. Sometimes, a region of the brain ''takes over'' for a region damaged by the stroke. People who have had a stroke sometimes experience remarkable and unanticipated recoveries that can't be explained. General recovery guidelines show that one- third of the patients are asymptomatic or mildly impaired, another third experience moderate disability and the remainder are severely impaired or may die.
Understanding risk factor management, symptom recognition and response and the realities of how stroke recovery can be are important for the health and well-being of everyone in your life.
Alejandro Tobon, M.D., is affiliated with Trimark Neurology, and is on the medical staff at Trinity Regional Medical Center.