According to the American Stroke Association, stroke is the 4th leading cause of death in the United States. Unfortunately, strokes often go untreated because people don't recognize the signs until it's too late. The best way to treat a stroke is to catch it as soon as possible and get that person to the emergency department. Dr. James Bernheimer, Director of The Primary Stroke Center at GBMC, answers questions about the warning signs of a stroke and recovery following a stroke.
Simply put, a stroke is a vascular event that stops blood from reaching a certain part of the brain. This can be caused either from a blood clot or from bleeding within the brain. "Stroke is tricky because the signs and the symptoms change depending on what part of the brain is involved," says Dr. Bernheimer, "the signs of a stroke differ from person to person." The key to recognizing a stroke is seeing a neurological deficiency. This can take many forms, but the most common are:
- Weakness or numbness, particularly on one side of the body
- Drooping of the face
- Problems with speech
- Vision loss
There is a simple acronym for recognizing the symptoms of stroke: FAST. This stands for face, arm, speech, and time.
Face — The face is drooping, especially on one side.
Arm — The person is unable to hold up their arms or their arm drifts as they try to hold it up.
Speech — Speech is slurred or altered.
Time — The sooner the person receives medical treatment, the better their outcome is likely to be.
If someone is experiencing one or more of the first three symptoms, there is a 70% - 80% chance that they are having a stroke and need immediate medical attention. Treatments are most successful if they are administered within three to six hours; once brain cells die, there is no way to regenerate them. Because of this, recovering from a stroke can be a very long process — it can take six months to a year if the stroke is severe. Rehabilitation involves extensive physical and/or speech therapy, which helps the brain re-learn some of the things it lost. Unfortunately, about two thirds of patients don't fully regain all the function that they had before the stroke.
It's very important to know if you are at a higher risk for a stroke. The most common risk factors are:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Cigarette smoking
While you can't change your age, you can improve the other major risk factors with the help of your primary care provider (PCP). At GBMC HealthCare System, our PCP offices are different. By working with people to get their cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes under control, our PCPs are helping us achieve our vision of providing the care we would want for our own loved ones. We want to prevent people from having a stroke in the first place. And by educating people about stroke, we enable them to get quicker care for their loved ones if a stroke occurs, which we hope will give them a better chance at recovery.
Remember, time is critical when determining the outcome of a stroke. The sooner a person receives treatment, the more likely they are to survive and regain function. If you suspect someone is having a stroke, call 911 immediately to get them to the nearest hospital. Acting quickly could save that person's life.
This webpage is for informational purposes only and not intended as medical advice or a substitute for a consultation with a professional healthcare provider.