What you don’t know can hurt you

Published 11:03 am Friday, March 25, 2011

We have all heard the old saying, “What you don’t know, can’t hurt you.” But in some instances, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Did you know that every year 795,000 people will suffer a new or a repeat stroke? Did you know that stroke remains the third leading cause of death in the United States? Many advances have been made in stroke prevention, treatment and rehabilitation over the last several years. However, it is believed that educating the general public on the signs/symptoms of stroke and what to do with that information will greatly improve the management of stroke care.

There are three types of stroke: ischemic, hemorrahagic and Transient Ischemic Attack.

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Ischemic strokes are the most common type of stroke and account for approximately 87 percent of all strokes. These are caused by a blockage of the artery.

Hemorrhagic strokes are caused when a blood vessel ruptures in or near the brain. These account for approximately 13 percent of all strokes.

TIAs (Transient Ischemic Attack) or “mini-strokes” as they are sometimes referred to, produce stroke-like symptoms that are temporary. They cause no lasting damage but may serve as a warning of possible impending stroke. Recognizing and treating TIAs may reduce your risk of a major stroke.

Please be aware and recognize the warning signs of a stroke. They include:

4 Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body;

4 Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding;

4 Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes;

4 Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination;

4 Sudden, severe headache with no known cause.

If you or someone with you experiences one or more of these symptoms, don’t delay; call 911 immediately. It is important that you call 911 for emergency assistance rather than driven to the emergency room by personal car, because time-saving procedures will be done in route by EMS as well as having advanced life support available if it becomes necessary.

As soon as you notice the symptoms, check the time.

The most common type of stroke is ischemic. There is a clot-busting medication available if the patient meets the criteria, but it must be started within three hours of symptom onset.

In stroke care, “time lost is brain lost.” Every second counts from the moment symptoms start so “waiting to see” if you feel better is the wrong move to make. It is “better to be safe than sorry.” There are three quick tests that can be done within a matter of seconds that can help you determine if what you are witnessing is a probable stroke:

41. Ask the person to smile at you. Does one side of the face droop or not move at all?

42 . Have the person close their eyes and hold both arms out in front of them with palms facing up. Does one arm not lift, or does it “drift” down from the starting point?

43. Ask the person to repeat after you a simple, common phrase such as “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” or “all for one and one for all.” Do they have difficulty speaking or is speech slow or slurred?

Just one yes answer to any of these three questions is indicative of 72 percent probability of a stroke and immediate action should be taken. Again, this means call 911.

Knowledge is a powerful thing and knowing your risk for stroke is the first step in preventing a stroke. There are some risk factors that you cannot change such as age, heredity, race, gender and having had a previous stroke or heart attack.

The chance of stroke approximately doubles for each decade of life after the age of 55. Family history of strokes predisposes you to a greater chance of stroke. African Americans have a greater risk than Caucasians due to higher incidence of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. Stroke is more common in men, however, more women than men die of stroke.

Fortunately, there are many risk factors involved that you can have the opportunity to influence. Among these are: high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol, excessive alcohol intake, illegal drug use and physical inactivity and obesity.

High blood pressure is the single most important risk factor for stroke because it is the No. 1 cause of stroke. Know and manage your numbers; talk to your doctor.

It is never too late to make lifestyle changes to help prevent a stroke from occurring.

But, if you or someone you know does experience the signs and symptoms of stroke, remember the following: Recognize the symptoms; note the time they started; call 911 immediately.

So now, what you do know can definitely help you or someone else. Pass it on.

For those of you who have experienced a stroke, as well as caregivers of those who have suffered a stroke, Natchez Regional Medical Center offers a stroke awareness support group.

You may contact Marc Taylor at 601-443-2131 if you would like more information or to find out the dates available for this group.

Patricia H. Marks, RN, is the Education Coordinator at Natchez Regional Medical Center.