Mid adult woman with headache

For every 12 minutes a stroke goes untreated and a pea-sized piece of brain may die.

"These are a couple of visuals that I sometimes use to teach about stroke," said Dr. Navin Varma, an Ogden neurologist and stroke program medical director at McKay-Dee Hospital. "I find that when I remind people the size of our brain and how much is affected during a stroke, the light seems to go on and they better understand just how much a stroke can affect our brain."

A stroke is sometimes referred to as a ‘brain attack’, Varma said. It's like a heart attack, but it's happening in the brain.

"Recently, stroke moved from the number three cause of death to the number four cause of death in the U.S. However, it remains the number three cause of death in Utah and remains the leading cause of adult disability in the U.S.," Varma said.

In addition, Varma said more and more younger people are having strokes, especially those caused by drug abuse from cocaine, amphetamines and heroin. Other factors involved in strokes at a younger age include diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

"Nearly one-fourth of strokes occur in people under the age of 65," he said.

Kristy Chambers, Stroke Coordinator at Ogden Regional Medical Center said the symptoms of stroke include numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body, confusion, trouble speaking or understanding, trouble seeing in one or both eyes, trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination or sudden and severe headache.

If you have any of these symptoms, Chambers and Varma said to call 911 immediately because there is a three hour window of time in which treatment can be given.

Don’t wait to see if the symptoms get better, don’t lay down or go to bed, don’t drive to the hospital," Varma said.

Some people may experience a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or “mini-stroke”, which occurs when a blood clot temporarily blocks a blood vessel in the brain, Varma said. The symptoms of a TIA can be the same as those of a stroke, though they are temporary and do not cause permanent damage. However, a TIA often happens before a stroke, and should never be ignored.

There is also another type of stroke which causes bleeding in the brain. This type of stroke is called hemorrhagic stroke, Chambers said. They are usually caused from a weakened blood vessel that ruptures and bleeds into the surrounding brain. This type of stroke accounts for approximately 13 percent of all strokes.

According to the American Stroke Association, about 795,000 Americans each year suffer a new or recurrent stroke. That means, on average, a stroke occurs every 40 seconds. Stroke kills more than 137,000 people a year. That's about one of every 18 deaths. On average, every four minutes someone dies of stroke. About 40 percent of stroke deaths occur in males, and 60 percent in females. Stroke is the leading cause of long term disability in the U.S.

Chambers said some of the risk factors for stroke cannot be controlled, such as your age or family history. But you can take steps to lower your risk by changing the factors you can control.

"An important step is to seek regular physician care and medication compliance for conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary artery disease and atrial fibrillation, diabetes, and sickle cell disease," Chambers said. "Other important steps to modify risk factors are eating a low fat low salt diet, limiting alcohol, stop smoking or eliminate second hand smoke exposure, and increasing physical activity."

Diet also can play an important role in stroke prevention, said Chambers and Varma.

A heart-healthy diet can help reduce stroke. A brain-healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish such as salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, herring or trout, which are rich in omega 3 fatty acids, whole-grain, high-fiber foods, dairy such as fat-free and low-fat products, beans and lean meats like skinless poultry may all help to reduce the risk of stroke.

tPA (tissue plasminogen activator) is the only FDA approved treatment for stroke at this time. The clot busting medication is given intravenously.

"There are strict criteria that must be met to receive the medication, including giving it within three hours of the time the person was last seen normal," Varma said. "The main reason why people don’t receive this treatment is because they don’t seek medical care soon enough. There are also endovascular treatments available, extending beyond the three hour window, in which a device is used to go in and retrieve the clot."

Early evaluation in the field with ambulances with CT scanners, protocols for earlier stroke intervention through EMS and stroke center coordination, medications to give after a stroke to reduce injury, medications and behavioral changes to help new brain tissue form is also on the horizon, Varma said.

"These are all in the works but results are preliminary, need to be verified, but still not tremendous. Prevention will be the key," he said.


Remember the BEFAST Acronym when it comes to stroke

Balance- if you are unsteady

Extremities - numbness or weakness

Face - numbness or drooping in the face

Arms - numbness or weakness in the arms

Speech - if you can't speak or understand

Time - time to call 911


Stroke Myths and Facts

Myth: Strokes only happens to older people.

Fact: Strokes can happen in young people, including infants, even. Nearly a quarter of strokes occur in people younger than 65.

Myth: Women are protected from strokes.

Fact: Women actually suffer strokes more frequently than men.

Myth: You can treat a stroke at home by taking aspirin.

Fact: While taking an aspirin can be helpful when it comes to having a heart attack, that is not the case with a stroke. In fact, if you are experiencing a bleeding (called hemorrhagic) stroke, aspirin could potentially make the situation worse. The priority with a stroke is to get to the ER for treatment as quickly as possible.

Myth: There’s nothing you can do to prevent a stroke.

Fact: There’s a lot you can do to prevent a stroke. Control high blood pressure, diabetes, limit alcohol, don't smoke, lose weight, avoid illegal drugs, exercise and each a healthy diet.

Myth: There are warning signs to a stroke.

Fact: You can have a stroke with no warning signs and no symptoms, other than the stroke itself.

Myth: Stroke recovery only happens for a few months following a stroke

Reality: Stroke recovery continues throughout life

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