My husband, Paul Berger, suffered a stroke over 25 years ago at the age of 36, when he was at the gym exercising. He had the worst headache ever, and was suffering from extreme dizziness. He asked the attendant at the desk for an aspirin. Fortunately, they called an ambulance. If he had been at home, I would not have recognized the symptoms, and probably would have killed him by giving him a dose of aspirin. He was experiencing a ruptured aneurysm, blood gushing out of a hole in a large blood vessel leading to his brain. The aspirin would have hastened the bleeding.
Stroke is the 4th leading cause of death, and a leading cause of disability among adults. According to the American Stroke Association, about 795,000 Americans suffer a new or recurrent stroke each year, stroke kills more than 128,000 people a year, and more than $38 billion is spent each year on stroke-related medical costs and disability.
Strokes occur among people of all ages, and among otherwise healthy-looking women and men. Eighty percent of strokes are caused by clots in blood vessels in the brain blocking the flow of oxygen and nutrients to brain cells; 20 percent are caused by ruptured vessels killing brain cells with a flood of lethal blood.
When Paul had his stroke, even state-of-the-art care couldn’t locate the rupture and while we waited a week in the hospital to repeat the tests, he had a second bleeding episode, leaving him severely disabled. Today, thanks to advances in imaging and interventional neuroradiology, there’s a much better track record in finding and treating ruptured aneurysms.
For the 80 percent suffering clot-induced strokes, getting to the hospital immediately will allow time to diagnose and begin treatment using clot-busting drugs. Unfortunately, there’s a small window of time for this treatment, about 3 to 4 hours from the first sign of stroke. The sooner the person having the stroke gets to the hospital, the sooner appropriate treatment can begin.
Since the person suffering the stroke often cannot act to call 9-1-1, everyone should learn the warning signs, and to act quickly. It is much better to call an ambulance immediately than to wait to see if the symptoms go away. This means that spouses, co-workers, friends, children and grandchildren need to learn the signs and how to act immediately, even if the person having the stroke seems resistant.
An easy way to remember the symptoms of stroke is “F.A.S.T.” for:
- F: Face Drooping. Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile.
- A: Arm Weakness. Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
- S: Speech Difficulty. Is speech slurred, are they unable to speak, or are they hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “the sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?
- T: Time to call 9-1-1. If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get them to the hospital immediately.
The American Stroke Association, part of the American Heart Association, and the National Stroke Association have many helpful tools for educating yourself and others about stroke. Learn about it today. If it could happen to my otherwise healthy husband, then it could happen to you, or to your loved ones.
**Blog content provided by You’re the Cure Virigina member, Stephanie Mensh.**