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Healthcare

‘Be Fast’: Strokes Don’t Discriminate

They don’t wait, either …

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Actress Sharon Stone. President Franklin Roosevelt. Comedian Sinbad. Country music singer Randy Travis. What does this eclectic group have in common? Each one of them suffered from a serious stroke. FDR even died from his stroke.

Nearly 800,000 people suffer strokes in the United States each year, and an estimated 137,000 don’t survive them. So it’s a condition that should be taken very, very seriously.

Strokes don’t care who we are. They don’t care about race, gender, socio-economic status or age (yes, young people do suffer strokes). Last month was National Stroke Awareness Month, but given the prevalence of stroke-related deaths in South Carolina – and across the southeast – it is important for all of our citizens to stay particularly mindful of this potentially life-threatening condition year-round.

In dealing with a stroke, time is of the essence. Every minute matters – and could, in fact, mean the difference between life and death.

“The most important thing when symptoms begin is getting to the hospital quickly,” said Brenna M. Brucker, M.D. “Some people think that when they get symptoms, maybe if they go to bed and they wake up, their symptoms will be gone. In all stroke interventions, time is extremely important.”

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Dr. Brucker is an emergency medicine physician and assistant medical director at Lexington Medical Center – an award-winning hospital system in the Midlands region of South Carolina. As we chronicled last fall, Lexington Medical Center is leading the fight against strokes in the Palmetto State. In addition to its ongoing community education efforts, the hospital offers advanced treatment options like mechanical endovascular reperfusion therapy – a method of clot retrieval in which radiologists access a patient’s femoral artery and guide microcatheters up into the brain to retrieve the clot.

CT scanning advances are also enabling emergency physicians and interventional radiologists to treat ischemic stroke patients 100 minutes sooner than just five years ago.

Ischemic strokes – the most prevalent type of strokes – involves blockages of blood vessels in the brain, which cut off blood flow and oxygen to the impacted area.

“For those, time is extremely important because there is a clot-busting drug that we can give in certain cases,” Dr. Brucker explained. “Or there is endovascular therapy where the clot can be removed.”

The other type of stroke is a hemorrhagic stroke. These occur when a blood vessel in the brain bursts – and bleeds into the surrounding tissue.

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“Likewise, time for those strokes is also very important for medications that we can give to make blood pressure lower and make outcomes better,” Dr. Brucker said. “So, for strokes of any kind, if you have symptoms, don’t just go to bed and hope things are going to be better in the morning. Because time is really important.” 

How do you know if you might be experiencing a stroke? Dr. Brucker pointed to a simple acronymic, mnemonic device – BE FAST – as a potential life-saver.

“There’s an acronym, BE FAST, that’s helpful to remember the different symptoms of stroke,” she said. “B stands for balance loss, meaning feeling off-balance or dizzy- like having a sudden onset of walking differently. E is eyesight change, a sudden change in vision. F is for facial droop – that’s one symptom people are commonly aware of with a stroke. The A is for arm weakness – like an arm that’s suddenly weaker or numb. Then, S is for speech. Speech issues like immediate onset of slurred speech or difficulty speaking. Finally, T is for time to call 9-1-1. So as soon as the symptoms start, call 9-1-1 to get to the closest emergency department.”

Recognizing these symptoms in ourselves – and in our loved ones – is the first step in getting help.

So, who is most at risk for a stroke? While they do not discriminate, factors like hypertension, obesity and chronic blood sugar elevation do increase risk.

“Having high blood pressure that’s not controlled is a risk factor,” Dr. Brucker explained. “Cigarette smoking, drinking, staying inactive, having high cholesterol, uncontrolled diabetes – there are some risk factors that can be controlled. And if you have certain medical conditions like atrial fibrillation, taking your medications and staying on those medications is very important.”

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Brenna M. Brucker, M.D. (Lexington Medical Center)

Heredity and age can come into play, too.

“If there’s a family history of stroke, yes – you are more likely to have a stroke,” Dr. Brucker said. “Generally, people aged 55 and older are at higher risk of stroke, but strokes do happen in young people as well.”

As with so many other areas of medical science, there have been major advancements in this field in recent years.

“We have excellent imaging capabilities where we can see even small strokes,” Dr. Brucker noted. “And those are important because when we know someone has had a small stroke or even, say, a stroke where you had symptoms, and then they got better, what we call a TIA – or trans-ischemic attack – we know to do everything possible to analyze every risk factor so that there isn’t another stroke. Or when there’s a mini-stroke and the symptoms go away, the goal is to make sure they don’t return. Because the fear is when they go away, and people think, ‘oh, no, I’m fine,’ it might happen again — but this time it might not get better. So, it’s really important to know about all those things so that any risk factor can be addressed as best as it can.”

But most of all, Dr. Brucker reminded us to “BE FAST” the minute we first suspect something might be wrong.

“The best chance at recovery is going to a hospital as soon as possible when stroke symptoms start,” she said. “So if there are stroke symptoms, you should go to a hospital as soon as they start because the sooner we can treat it, the better the chances are. Similar to whenever there’s a heart attack, time is critical. And because the brain is such an important organ, anything that we can do as early as possible is best.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Mark Powell (Provided)

J. Mark Powell is an award-winning former TV journalist, government communications veteran, and a political consultant. He is also an author and an avid Civil War enthusiast. Got a tip or a story idea for Mark? Email him at mark@fitsnews.com.

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