May 26, 2010
Across the country, someone suffers a stroke every 45 seconds, and strokes are the third leading cause of death in the United States. Needless to say, Stroke Teams at Martha Jefferson Hospital are always busy.
A stroke is the result of a lack of oxygen in the brain from a blocked or ruptured blood vessel.
"Most of the time you should be able to know that a stroke is happening to you. It occurs suddenly. That's one of the real indicators that a stroke is happening; one moment you're doing fine then suddenly you're having a problem," said Dr. Alex Grunsfeld, a doctor at Martha Jefferson.
Sudden inability to stand, numbness and difficulty with speech or vision are some of the symptoms of a stroke. But doctors say it is preventable.
"Strokes occur because of a chronic injury to blood vessels in the brain, and if you're aware of what's going on in your life that is causing that injury, you can reverse it for instance," said Dr. Grunsfeld.
Doctors say some risk factors are uncontrollable. For instance, men are more at risk than women, and risk increases as you age. But there are some you can manage, including high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking.
Dr. Grunsfeld suggests a useful acronym to help in identifying a stroke and preventing death. 'FAST' stands for Face, Arms, Speech, Time. Look for asymmetry in the face, ask the person to raise their arms, ask for the person to repeat words and quickly get the stroke victim to a hospital.
"If you get to the hospital in a short enough time period, there are medicines available that can reverse the stroke. They can unblock the blockage that is causing the stroke," said Dr. Grunsfeld.
Doctors say you should not ignore minor problems, as they may be a precursor to a stroke. They say something called a TIA is very similar to a stroke - a blood vessel gets blocked - but goes away on its own. TIA victims are very likely to have a stroke within the next few days.