Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. and a leading cause of major disability, but recognizing the symptoms and seeking immediate medical attention can lower the risk of disability and death. But the reality, according to Devin Tsai, MD, a member of Newport Hospital’s Stroke Standards Team and an emergency department physician, is that most people don’t seek immediate care or even know what the symptoms are.
“Stroke is an emergency and it should be treated as one,” said Tsai. “Two million brain cells die every minute during stroke and every minute that passes is time that the brain is being deprived of oxygen. This is why immediate medical attention is essential to help save lives and limit disabilities.”
And, he adds, patients experiencing stroke symptoms need to be treated at a hospital that has experience in this area, such as Newport Hospital. The hospital is certified by the Joint Commission as an Advanced Primary Stroke Center. This means that the hospital meets rigorous national standards in caring for stroke patients.
Stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is blocked by a clot or when the vessel bursts. This interrupts the blood flow to an area of the brain and when this happens, brain cells begin to die and brain damage occurs. It is a far too common occurrence: in the U.S. stroke occurs every 40 seconds.
“Recognizing stroke symptoms and getting medical care immediately are vital. As a primary stroke center, we can administer the appropriate treatments quickly,” said Tsai. “We encourage people to identify stroke symptoms by thinking of the acronym FAST.”
FAST can be used to help people remember the warning signs.
- F = Face. Ask the person to smile. Does the face look uneven?
- A = Arms. Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift down or is it unable to move?
- S = Speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Does their speech sound strange? Strange speech could be slurred, the wrong words may come out, or the person is unable to speak.
- T = Time to call 9-1-1. If a person is experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s time to call 9-1-1. Equally important is calling 9-1-1 at the exact time of the onset of the symptoms.
Other potential warning signs of stroke include:
- Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Difficulty walking, dizziness, loss of balance and coordination
- Severe headache with no known cause
While recognizing and treating stroke symptoms is crucial, so is taking steps to prevent stroke, especially since 80 percent of strokes can be prevented. Those steps include working with your physician to:
- Know your blood pressure
- Identify atrial fibrillation
- Stop smoking
- Control alcohol use
- Know cholesterol levels
- Control diabetes
- Manage exercise/diet
- Treat circulation problems
“There are so many things people can do to minimize their stroke risk,” said Tsai. “But knowing to call 9-1-1 immediately if stroke symptoms are present is the single most important thing people can do to limit the devastating effects of stroke.”
Newport Hospital offers a monthly stroke support group. It meets on the second Wednesday of the month at 2 p.m. in the Gudoian Conference Room at the hospital, located at 11 Friendship Street in Newport. For more information about stroke care and the support group, call 401-845-1864 or 401-845-1757. You can also visit the Newport Hospital website at www.newporthospital.org/stroke.html.