Use Your Head to Stop Strokes
Be Smart about Your Heart — and Stroke Treatment — to Protect Your Brain
The myths about stroke are numerous. Among the most popular — and perhaps one of the most dangerous — is that stroke is something that happens only to older adults.
In fact, a recent report by the American Stroke Association showed a sharp rise in stroke hospitalizations among men and women ages 15 to 44, while rates declined by 25 percent among older adults.
“The biggest mistake people make is thinking it won’t happen to them,” says Tudor Jovin, MD, director of the UPMC Stroke Institute. “Strokes can happen to anyone, at any age,” he says.
Lowering your risk is the best way to avoid the life-changing impact a stroke can have on you and your family. When a stroke does occur, fast action is critical to minimize damage. The window of opportunity for the most successful stroke treatment is just three hours after onset.
Prevention: What You Can Do
“Heart disease increases your chances of having a stroke, so it’s important to control the risk factors,” says Lawrence Wechsler, MD, chair of the Department of Neurology at UPMC.
While you can’t do anything about your age, family history, or ethnicity (African-Americans have a higher incidence of stroke), you can control high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, physical inactivity, and smoking.
“You’re at risk any time your blood pressure or cholesterol are up. It’s far better to prevent a stroke than to deal with the consequences,” Dr. Wechsler says.
Treatment: Time Lost is Brain Lost
Every minute after the start of a stroke means greater risk of permanent damage or death. One of the best treatments for ischemic strokes — where a clot blocks blood flow to the brain — is the quick administration of the clot-busting drug called tissue plasminogen activator (t-PA). While UPMC doctors have had success beyond three hours with a special procedure to retrieve the blockage or dissolve it with drugs administered directly into the clot, time is critical.
For patients experiencing a hemorrhagic stroke caused by bleeding in the brain, fast action is needed to repair the leaking blood vessel.
If you suspect someone has suffered a stroke, call for emergency medical help immediately so treatment can begin without delay.
Specialized stroke centers — such as UPMC’s Stroke Institute at UPMC Presbyterian, UPMC Shadyside, UPMC St. Margaret, and UPMC Mercy — have experts available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to diagnose and treat patients. The UPMC Stroke Telemedicine Program also uses technology to provide fast treatment to patients at other UPMC hospitals throughout western Pennsylvania.
Use this simple acronym to help determine whether you’re witnessing a stroke:
F ace: Can the person smile (or does one side of the face droop)?
A rms: Can the person raise both arms (or does one side drift downward)?
S peech: Can the person speak clearly or repeat a simple phrase?
T ime: Call 911 immediately if someone exhibits any of these warning signs!
Strokes require immediate medical attention, so knowing the warning signs is crucial, says William Kristan, MD, chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at UPMC Passavant. Stroke symptoms can include sudden onset of:
- Paralysis or weakness in the face or limbs, especially on one side of the body
- Problems with balance or walking
- Vision problems
- Slurred speech
- Problems speaking or understanding
- Severe headache