In honor of National Stroke Awareness Month in May, Northern Arizona Healthcare is educating the community about stroke risk factors, symptoms and preventive measures. A stroke is referred to as a brain attack because it cuts off vital blood and oxygen to the brain cells that control everything we do – including speaking, walking and breathing. Every year, stroke affects approximately 800,000 Americans; is the fifth leading cause of death; and is a leading cause of disability. One out of four people who experience stroke has a recurrence. The good news, however, is that many strokes can be prevented. Moreover, recent research shows that a decrease in stroke-related deaths is most likely due to stroke prevention efforts nationwide.
Know your risk for stroke
Everyone has some stroke risk. A few stroke risk factors are beyond your control, such as being over the age of 55, being a male, being African-American, having diabetes and/or having a family history of stroke. If you have one of these risk factors, it is even more important that you learn about the lifestyle and medical changes you can make to prevent a stroke. Here are a few important stroke-prevention guidelines from the National Stroke Association:
- Know your blood pressure. If it is elevated, work with your physician to help keep it under control.
- Get tested to find out whether you have an irregular heartbeat, also known as atrial fibrillation. If you have this condition, work with your physician to manage it.
- If you smoke, stop. Smoking doubles the risk for stroke.
- If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
- Know your cholesterol number. If it is high, work with your physician to control it.
- If you are diabetic, follow your physician’s recommendations carefully to control your diabetes.
- Include exercise in the activities you enjoy in your daily routine.
- Enjoy a lower-sodium, lower-fat diet.
- Ask your physician if you have circulation problems. If so, work with your physician to control them.
Seek immediate medical attention
Stroke is an emergency. For every minute that brain cells are deprived of oxygen during stroke, the likelihood of brain damage increases. If you have any of the following stroke symptoms, call 911 and seek immediate medical attention. The most common stroke symptoms are:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg – especially on one side of the body.
- Sudden confusion; trouble speaking or understanding.
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking; dizziness; loss of balance; or coordination.
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
Research indicates that patients receiving care at a Primary Stroke Center, such as NAH’s Flagstaff Medical Center, have a higher incidence of survival and recovery than those treated in hospitals without this type of specialized care. FMC’s stroke team includes full-time neurology coverage, either in-house or via Telestroke. When stroke patients arrive at FMC’s emergency room, Telestroke allows a remote assessment by a stroke specialist via special audiovisual equipment that enables the specialist to observe diagnostic head imaging, cardiac monitors and a patient’s performance during a structured neurological examination.
NAH’s Verde Valley Medical Center’s Emergency Department in Cottonwood has two telemedicine carts to treat stroke patients via the TeleHealth Program; the Sedona Campus has one telemedicine cart. Using this technology, stroke patients at VVMC can be seen by stroke specialists.
According to the National Stroke Association, a person experiencing a stroke can be treated if bystanders act F.A.S.T:
- F – Face: Look for an uneven smile.
- A – Arm: Check if one arm is weak.
- S – Speech: Listen for slurred speech.
- T – Time: Call 911 right away.
If you or someone you know has suffered a stroke, monthly Stroke Survivor Support groups are held in Flagstaff and Cottonwood. Click here for event dates and times.