Every 45 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke. And when it happens, immediate action is crucial. Stroke victims who receive emergency and advanced technical care within the first three to six hours of the first symptom may avoid or greatly lessen the consequences to their health.
Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the country, and can lead to a number of serious disabilities including loss of speech, weakness or paralysis, coordination problems, confusion and memory loss. Nearly three-quarters of all strokes occur in people over the age of 65, and that risk more than doubles each decade after the age of 55. However, strokes can — and do — occur at any age.
What is stroke?
A stroke is an interruption of blood flow to the brain, most often caused by a clot in an artery that feeds the brain. In most stroke cases, the clot forms elsewhere in the body and migrates to the brain; in some cases, the blood clot is in the brain itself. When blood flow is interrupted, brain cells cannot get the oxygen and other nutrients they need to survive. If they die, the part of the body they control is affected. Fortunately, brain tissue doesn’t die right away, and if blocked blood vessels can be opened within three to six hours, there is a significant chance of recovery. But every minute counts.
Most of the time, stroke happens without warning. However, some people experience a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or “mini-stroke.” Caused by a temporary blockage in an artery, TIA produces the same symptoms as a conventional stroke, but usually resolves within an hour and results no permanent injury to the brain. TIA can be a warning sign of a future stroke; nearly a third of people who have one or more TIAs will have a stroke at some point in the future. TIA cannot predict when the next stroke will occur, but about 25 percent of TIA victims have another stroke within 90 days. Recognizing and treating TIA can reduce the risk of having a full-blown stroke.
Who is at risk?
While anyone is susceptible to stroke, there are a number of factors that can increase risk, including:
— High blood pressure
— Heart disease
— High cholesterol
— Carotid artery disease
— Over 65 years of age
— Family history of stroke or carotid artery disease
— African-American ethnicity
Is it stroke?
Unfortunately, many stroke victims do not recognize the signs of stroke, or wait too long to call a doctor. Stroke symptoms come on very suddenly and can include the following:
— Numbness or weakness on one side of the body
— Confusion or problems talking or understanding speech
— Difficulty seeing with one or both eyes
— Difficulty walking, dizziness, or lack of coordination
— Severe headache
If you think you are having a stroke, go to the emergency room immediately. It is always better to find out you didn’t have a stroke than to learn you did and waited too long to get help.
Carotid artery disease: Controlling the risk
Carotid arteries are located on either side of the neck and are a major source of blood supply to the brain. If they become narrowed or blocked over time due to carotid artery disease, a stroke can result. Fortunately, plaque in the carotid arteries can be easily identified through a fast, noninvasive ultrasound examination performed in the physician’s office.
A screening is recommended if you:
— Have coronary artery disease or peripheral vascular disease
— Have been diagnosed with carotid bruit
— Have a family history of carotid disease or stroke
— Are over 70 years old
— Are over 60 years old and smoke
Taking action: Interventional radiologists
When a patient comes to the emergency room after suffering a stroke, a team of emergency department physicians, neurologists and interventional radiologists goes into action. Interventional radiologists are physicians who specialize in treating diseases using small catheters and catheter-based instruments guided by radiological imaging techniques such as X-rays, ultrasound and Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI. Performed under local anesthesia, this minimally invasive approach reduces the need for large surgical incisions and general anesthesia. The advanced techniques of interventional radiology offer several significant advantages over treatments used in the past.
The Scripps Encinitas Conference Center will play host to a free health fair from 7 to 11 a.m. Sept. 27. Learn about stroke and its risk factors and have your blood pressure, blood glucose, body fat and cholesterol screenings performed.
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