Strokes can occur suddenly due to a blood clot or hemorrhage in the brain, killing brain cells within minutes. Early intervention and recognizing the signs of stroke can help prevent death or disability.
Dr. S. Shiraz Hyder, neurologist for St. Alexius Specialty Clinic, explained that stroke is the top cause of disabilities in the United States.
"Early intervention improves the outcome," Hyder said. "If a patient comes in in a timely manner, there are treatments available to dissolve a blood clot with clot-busting drugs given within three hours of the stroke."
Katina Tengesdal/MDN - - Dr. S. Shiraz Hyder, neurologist for St. Alexius Specialty Clinic, speaks about the warning signs of stroke.
"Most strokes are heralded by warning signs called TIA, or transient ischemic attack, which is very short lasting maybe an hour or two, usually in which stroke symptoms come and then disappear because the bloodflow to the brain was restored, or the clot dissolves or breaks up and symptoms go away," Hyder said.
TIAs herald the coming of a larger stroke, and those experiencing symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.
Hyder said that symptoms of stroke can include weakness or numbness on one side of the body; sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes; sudden loss of speech or slurred speech; sudden onset of confusion; dizziness or difficulty in walking; or sudden onset of a severe headache.
Know the warning signs of a stroke
Awareness of the symptoms can be important. Only one in five Americans is aware of what the warning signs of stroke are.
"When people know about the warning signs, it can help them as well as others," said Dr. S. Shiraz Hyder, neurologist for St. Alexius Specialty Clinic. "If a person is having a stroke, their judgment may be impaired, and they may not be able to pick up the phone for help. It's important to share the signs of stroke with friends, family and neighbors because who knows when or where it may happen and you hope the person next to you knows the warning signs if you are having a stroke."
In addition to being alert to warning signs of stroke, people can take preventative steps. The risk factors that put a person at risk for stroke are the same as those that put them at risk for heart attacks: high blood pressure, uncontrolled diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking, being overweight, being physically inactive and being under a lot of stress.
"People should know their numbers, their blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol," Hyder said. "If the numbers are high, they should see their family doctor to bring them under control."
While treatment can be administered within three hours of stroke, if the time frame has been longer there are very specialized treatments that can help even up to six to 12 hours after symptoms. But these are only available at specialized medical centers, including at St. Alexius.
"In some exceptions, we can give the clot-busting drugs within 4-1/2 hours of stroke; or, in exceptional cases, within six to 12 hours," he said.
"If a patient comes to us after the stroke has been fully established, we can't reverse the damage that has occurred, but we can help in preventing further damage," he said.
Stroke is not only the top cause of disabilities in the United States, Hyder said, but also a main reason people enter into nursing homes. Stroke can affect family members and friends as well as the person who has had a stroke, if they need extensive caregiving.
"The disabilities can include the inability to use a limb, to walk or needing assistance to walk; being unable to see, speak or swallow; or being unable to remember or recognize in varying degrees," Hyder said. "It depends on the extent of the stroke, and what area of the brain is affected."