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Act Fast! Strokes Treatable if Caught Early

Strokes are the leading cause of disability and the fourth leading cause of death in America. In many cases, however, they don't have to be disabling or deadly. Knowing the warning signs of a stroke and acting quickly may help you or your loved one escape the damaging effects of a "brain attack." Treatments are now available that can help prevent a stroke.

Blood flow problems

Strokes are caused by problems with the circulation of blood in the brain. Blood circulation to the brain can be affected by either a hemorrhage, when a blood vessel bursts (hemorrhagic stroke), or a blockage, when a clot blocks the flow of blood (ischemic stroke).

When 1 of these problems occurs, a person may experience 1 or more symptoms that happen suddenly. The symptoms may continue or they may disappear within minutes to hours. Warning signs to be aware of include:

  • Numbness or weakness in the face, arms, or legs, often on 1 side of the body

  • Episodes of dizziness

  • Loss of vision in 1 eye or double vision

  • Difficulty speaking or understanding speech

  • Severe, sudden headache

It is very important to call 911 immediately if you experience any of these symptoms. Medications can be given in a hospital that can reverse the stroke, but they must be given within the first 3 hours of the onset of symptoms. Every minute counts.

Specific treatment

Once warning symptoms are recognized, doctors can begin appropriate treatment. Treatments for strokes are very specific and depend on the type, size, and location of the blockage or disruption of blood flow in the brain. They may include the use of powerful drugs to dissolve brain clots or reduce and prevent hemorrhaging, or emergency surgical intervention may be necessary to stop bleeding into the brain. Quick action and early treatment can make a profound difference for a person's health.

Although anyone can have a stroke, certain factors can place a person at higher risk. These factors include diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol, family history of stroke, irregular heartbeat (particularly atrial flutter or atrial fibrillation), and a narrowing of the arteries. People with 1 or more risk factors should receive a stroke screening test from their health care provider. The screening can include a review of medical history, a physical exam, an ultrasound exam of the neck to detect blood flow disturbances in the carotid arteries, and blood tests for blood sugar and cholesterol levels (lipid profile).

Stroke prevention is also important. You can help prevent a stroke by getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking. Keep chronic health condition,s such as diabetes or high blood pressure, under control by taking your medications and getting regular checkups.

Publication Source: Guidelines for the Early Management of Patients With Acute Ischemic Stroke. Jauch. E. Stroke. 2013, is. 44, ed. 3, pp. 870-947.
Online Source: Stroke: Hope Through Research, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokehttp://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/stroke/detail_stroke.htm <a href="" target="_blank"></a>
Online Source: Initial Assessment and Management of Acute Stroke, UpToDatehttp://www.uptodate.com <a href="" target="_blank"></a>
Online Editor: Geller, Arlene
Online Medical Reviewer: Fetterman, Anne, RN, BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 11/21/2013
Date Last Modified: 1/3/2014
© 2000-2014 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.