The numbers are startling. Stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States and the No. 1 cause of disability. Every 40 seconds someone in the United States suffers from a stroke, and every 4 minutes someone dies from a stroke. Every year approximately 800,000 people have a stroke, and 1 in 20 deaths are due to a stroke. What’s more, stroke costs the United States an estimated $34 billion each year. This includes the cost of health care services, treatment medications and missed days of work.
These statistics can be scary when you realize how prevalent stroke is in the United States. But, the most important statistic of all is that 90 percent of all strokes are preventable.
So, what is a stroke? A stroke can be categorized in to two terms: ischemic and hemorrhagic. An ischemic stroke is when there is a blood clot in one of the blood vessels in the brain. The clot prevents blood to flow to that area of the brain, and therefore causes a lack of oxygen to the tissue and cells. Without oxygen the cells will die, causing brain tissue death. A hemorrhagic stroke is when a blood vessel bursts and blood spills in or around the brain. This causes a build up of pressure and blood flow is disrupted creating a lack of oxygen to a certain area of the brain. Eighty-five percent of all strokes are ischemic strokes.
For every minute that passes during a stroke, 2.5 million neurons die. Time is truly of the essence in stroke care. If you encounter someone having a stroke or if you think you are having a stroke, the highest priority is to get to the hospital immediately. We recommend calling 9-1-1 instead of driving yourself. EMS is trained in the pre-hospital care and understands the local hospital protocols. This will expedite your care once you get to the Emergency Room.
In order to get treatment as fast as possible, knowing the signs and symptoms of a stroke is essential. A stroke can happen fast, so it is key to BE FAST to treat a stroke. BE FAST is the acronym used to identify a possible stroke. B is for balance. Is the person’s balance off? Is there a sudden loss of coordination? E is for eyes. Is there sudden onset of blurry or double vision? F is for face. Is there noticeable drooping of the face, particularly on one side? Can they smile, and is the smile even on both sides? A is for arms/legs. Do they have arm weakness or leg weakness? Is their coordination off? S is for speech. Is their speech slurred? Are they making sense when they are talking? Can they even speak? T is for time. It’s time to call 9-1-1, and also to look at a clock to see what time you noticed the symptoms starting. In stroke care, time is the most important aspect for the patient and the medical professionals to determine what treatment can be done.
In order to prevent a stroke, we need to understand what causes a stroke. The top three causes of stroke are high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking. Strokes are more common in women than in men and more prevalent in the African American and Hispanic populations. If you are concerned about being at high risk for a stroke, speak with your provider to learn how you can help lower your risk factors. It is important to remember a stroke can be prevented. With a little understanding of your current health and being proactive in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, you can prevent a stroke. And, by remembering the BE FAST acronym, you could save a life.
Britney M Sciamanda BSN, RN, CCRN, CEN, EMT-P, Stroke Program Coordinator, Lima Memorial Health System