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May is National Stroke Awareness Month

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James D. Fleck, M.D., a neurologist at Methodist Hospital and medical director of stroke services for Clarian Neuroscience, discusses symptoms, risk factors and treatments for stroke in recognition of May being National Stroke Awareness Month.

What is a stroke?

A stroke is a “brain attack,” where a disturbance or disease of a blood vessel cuts off vital blood flow and oxygen to the brain. There are two different types of strokes: an ischemic stroke and a hemorrhagic stroke. An ischemic stroke occurs when there is a blockage of a blood vessel going to a part of the brain depriving that part of the brain of oxygen and nutrients. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel ruptures causing bleeding in or around the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes are much more likely to cause you to have a headache.

What are the signs and symptoms of a stroke that I need to look for?

Common symptoms for stroke include the sudden onset of numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body. Other signs may include a sudden onset of confusion, trouble speaking or understanding, trouble seeing in one or both eyes, trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination, or a severe headache with no known cause.

What is a TIA?

The term TIA stands for transient ischemic attack. A TIA occurs when there is a temporary blockage of a blood vessel in the brain that causes stroke symptoms. Fortunately, in the case of a TIA, the blockage goes away quickly, leaving the person with no permanent problems or abnormalities when we take pictures of the brain with a CT or MRI scanner. However, a TIA is a strong risk factor for a future stroke.

What are the most common risk factors for strokes?

There are several risk factors for stroke that we cannot control. These include age (stroke risk increases with age), race (African Americans and Hispanics have an increased risk of stroke), having a family history of stroke, and having had a previous TIA or stroke. But there are also several risk factors that can be modified or treated. These include high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus or high blood sugar, high cholesterol, cigarette smoking, eating a poor diet and physical inactivity. Lastly, if you have a heart rhythm disturbance called atrial fibrillation or have a blockage in the carotid artery of your neck, then you have an increased risk of stroke. Basically, the more risk factors you have the higher your chance of having a stroke. 

I occasionally suffer from migraines, but I don’t have any other stroke-related symptoms or risk factors. Should I be worried about having a stroke?

People who have migraine headaches have a slightly increased risk of stroke. However, if your only risk factor is the fact that you have migraines, then your chance of having a stroke is very, very low.

What can individuals do to lower their chances of having a stroke?

One of the most important things you can do to help prevent stroke is to treat high blood pressure. You can also minimize your risk of ischemic stroke by controlling, modifying or treating your risk factors and taking blood thinners if prescribed by your doctor. 

What special stroke treatments are offered at Clarian?

Clarian Health is a Joint Commission-designated primary stroke center with special expertise in caring for people with strokes. This designation from the Joint Commission offers reassurance that individuals are getting the best treatments for stroke when they come to Clarian. Clarian’s Methodist Hospital stands apart from many other hospitals in that we have skilled physicians who are able to place catheters into the blocked brain blood vessels to give clot-busting medication and who can use special devices to remove blood clots. However, in order to be effective, these types of treatments need to be given very quickly after the onset of a stroke, and they do carry some risk. They are best provided by physicians and hospitals with expertise in caring for people with strokes.

For more information about stroke symptoms, risk factors and treatments, visit www.clarian.org/neuro and click on the “Stroke Services” tab. To request your free stroke information kit, call (317) 962-2533.

If you think someone is having a stroke, act F.A.S.T. to recognize it

F Face – Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

A Arms – Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S Speech – Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Are his or her words slurred?

T Time – If the person has any of these symptoms, call 911 and get medical attention immediately.

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