Not only are strokes one of the most deadly medical conditions, but they can also strike in a matter of minutes. And once symptoms start, you’re on the clock to secure the proper care because the longer you wait, the fewer treatment options are available — and the less successful they’ll likely be. So, knowing the signs and understanding the basics when it comes to strokes can be lifesaving preparation for an emergency situation.
As a leading cause of death in the United States, strokes happen more frequently than you might think. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), someone in the US has a stroke every 40 seconds. This totals to nearly 800,000 strokes each year. Even more alarming, a stroke-related death happens every 4 minutes.
Also notable are differences in strokes across race, gender, and age. Black Americans are almost twice as likely to have a stroke compared to their white counterparts, and they also have the highest death rate of all races.
While strokes can happen at any age, the older population is at increased risk. Still, 34 percent of stroke hospitalizations are for people under 65.
One encouraging statistic is related to the timeliness of treatment. Stroke patients who arrive at the emergency room within the first 3 hours of symptom onset often face a lessened chance of disability long-term. What makes this more disheartening is the fact that in surveys, only 38 percent of participants were able to identify all stroke symptoms. This signals an opportunity for greater education and, in turn, more effective treatment.
Risks & Symptoms
Strokes are best known for one symptom at onset: sudden numbness on one side of the body. But there are actually many more indicators that someone is experiencing a stroke. It’s critical to check for all symptoms because strokes present differently from person to person.
There are six main symptoms to look for, all of which can be remembered using the mnemonic device: BE FAST. Each letter of the acronym represents one of the symptoms.
Balance is the first, and if the person is feeling dizzy or wobbly it is cause for concern. Next is Eyes, if their vision is unfocused or spacey it is also associated with strokes. Face Drooping is the most well-known symptom, followed by Arm Weakness which can be tested through a lifting motion. Speech should also be assessed to see if the individual is forming clear, coherent sentences. The last letter in the acronym is T, which represents Time as a reminder to move quickly to find medical assistance when a stroke occurs.
Committing these six items to memory can help in the heat of the moment. But there are also a number of ways to prevent a stroke before it happens. There are many risk factors that can be reduced with simple lifestyle changes. Examples of risk factors include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
If your doctor diagnoses you with any of these, you should strongly consider adjusting your routine to prevent even more detrimental health effects down the line. Recommended changes often include eating a healthier and more balanced diet, exercising regularly, and quitting smoking.
When a stroke hits, the top priority is getting to the closest hospital. Acting quickly to get medical attention will give the patient a greater chance at a successful recovery. Because time is of the essence, calling 911 to take an ambulance is generally recommended.
Here in Southern Maryland, UM Charles Regional Medical Center has been designated as a Primary Stroke Center by the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems (MIEMSS). This requires a commitment to greater preparedness to handle strokes.
Stroke readiness ensures that the entire multi-disciplinary team on staff has mechanisms in place from the moment a stroke patient comes in the door. This means more timely treatment to stabilize acute conditions.
For those concerned about their risk factors for a stroke, additional resources are also available through UM Charles Regional. Our primary care practice is a great place to get baseline testing done for cholesterol and blood pressure. And if you’re committing to healthier lifestyle changes, there are peer support groups available as well as appointments with a registered dietician who can provide a personalized plan to match your lifestyle.