National Stroke Awareness month takes place in May every year. On May 11, 1989, President George Bush signed Presidential Proclamation 5975 designating May as National Stroke Awareness Month at the urging of the National Stroke Association. Since then, the National Stroke Association has been honoring this special time of the year to increase public awareness of stroke in an effort to conquer it.
Why raise awareness?
Stroke is under-recognized and not well-understood among the general public. Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability in the United States - 795,000 people in the U.S. suffer strokes each year; 133,000 people die from a stroke each year. There are 7 million stroke survivors in the U.S.
Some interesting stroke facts include:
Up to 80 percent of all strokes are preventable through risk factor management. On average, someone suffers a stroke every 40 seconds.
Stroke kills more than twice as many women every year as breast cancer.
More women than men die from stroke and risk is higher for women due to higher life expectancy.
Women suffer greater disability after strokes than men.
Women ages 45 to 54 are experiencing a stroke surge, mainly due to increased risk factors and lack of prevention knowledge.
The risk of stroke in African-Americans is nearly double that of Caucasians and they suffer more extensive physical impairments. They are twice as likely to die from stroke. Hispanics have a higher incidence of stroke than Caucasians and are at increased risk for all types of stroke at younger ages.
Raising stroke awareness is about:
Elevating stroke in the mindset of everyone in the U.S. so more people care about supporting stroke research and education.
Ensuring that everyone understands the emotional, physical and financial impacts that stroke has on our country.
Influencing others to improve their health by sharing personal stories of how stroke has already affected the lives of so many.
Talking to legislators and thought leaders about how their decisions can positively affect survivors throughout their recovery.
Providing a platform for the more than 7 million survivors and their families to discuss their experiences and live with dignity. Stroke survivors possess the most influential and inspiring knowledge needed to make an impact on society. Their voices are so important.
Blood vessels that carry blood to the brain from the heart are called arteries. The brain needs a constant supply of blood, which carries the oxygen and nutrients it needs to function. Each artery supplies blood to specific areas of the brain. A stroke occurs when one of these arteries to the brain either is blocked or bursts. As a result, part of the brain does not get the blood it needs, so it starts to die.
The left side of the brain controls how the right side of the body moves and feels, and is responsible for how well we can figure out problems with science, understanding what we read and what we hear people say, number skills such as adding and subtracting, and reasoning. The right side of the brain controls the movements and feelings on the left side of the body and is in charge of how artistic we are, including musical and creative talents.
There are two types of stroke, ischemic and hemorrhagic. An ischemic stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery, cutting off the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a part of the brain. Ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke. There are two types of ischemic stroke: embolic and thrombotic. In an embolic stroke, a blood clot or plaque fragment forms somewhere in the body and moves through the bloodstream to the brain. A thrombotic stroke is a blood clot that does not travel, but forms inside an artery that supplies blood to the brain.
Hemorrhagic strokes are caused by a bursting blood vessel in the brain that spills blood into the brain. High blood pressure and brain aneurysms can both cause the blood vessel to be weak and possibly cause this type of stroke.
Transient Ischemic Attacks (I+TIA) is a warning sign of a future stroke - up to 40 percent of TIA patients will have a future stroke. Symptoms of TIAs are the same as stroke but resolve within minutes or hours and cause no permanent brain damage. It is important to seek immediate medical attention if you suspect that you are having or have had a TIA.
Stroke signs and symptoms include sudden numbness or weakness of your face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body, sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding, sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes. Symptoms also include trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination, sudden sever headache with no known cause. Other important but less common symptoms include sudden nausea and vomiting, brief loss of consciousness or a period of decreased consciousness.
Stroke strikes FAST and you should too. Call 9-1-1.
F = FACE: Ask the person to smile.
A = ARM: Ask the person to raise both arms. One arm will drift downward.
S = SPEECH: Ask the person to speak a simple sentence. They may not be able to speak or have slurred speech.
T = TIME: If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.
Many people do not respond to stroke symptoms for a variety of reasons. Some people don't recognize the symptoms - denial -think nothing can be done, worry about the cost, or think their symptoms will go away. If you have any of these symptoms or see them in someone else, call 911 immediately. Treatment can be more effective if given quickly as every minute counts.
Ischemic strokes can be treated by a clot busting medication called tPA (tissue plasminogen activator). The tPA helps to re-establish blood flow to the brain by dissolving the clots that are blocking the flow. The tPA is given in an IV and is the first FDA-approved acute treatment for ischemic stroke. This medication must be given within three hours of symptom onset or time the person was last known well. Patients must arrive to the Emergency Department within one to two hours of symptoms onset in order to have enough time to complete a head CT scan to make sure the patient isn't bleeding into the brain prior to giving the medication.
Remember, tPA can reverse the devastating effects of some strokes if given within the three hour time frame. Time is brain.
If patients present beyond the three-hour window the options to reverse the damage are limited.
Reducing your stroke risk:
Everyone has some stroke risk. A few stroke risk factors are beyond your control, such as being over age 55, being a male, being African-American, Pacific/Islander or Hispanic, having diabetes, and having a family history of stroke. If you have one of these risk factors, it is even more important that you learn about the lifestyle and medical changes you can make to prevent a stroke.
Medical stroke risk factors include previous stroke, previous episode of TIA, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, atrial fibrillation and carotid artery disease. These medical risk factors can be controlled. Talk with your doctor about what will work best for you.
Lifestyle stroke risk factors include smoking, being overweight and drinking too much alcohol. You can control these lifestyle risk factors by quitting smoking, exercising regularly, watching what and how much you eat and limiting alcohol consumption.
Daphne Willwerth, RN, BSN, CEN, is the Emergency Department manager at Trinity Regional Medical Center.