Eight Ways to Prevent Stroke and Spot Its Warning Signs

stroke-sarah-songBy Sarah Song, MD, MPH

I recently saw a young man who had suffered a stroke. His wife, who is in the medical field, recognized his symptoms of weakness and numbness as being a possible stroke, and she called 911.

As a result, he got to the hospital quickly and was treated with an intravenous clot-busting drug called tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA, which is the only urgent medication for stroke approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. When I saw him after his discharge, he was in great health with no residual effects. He spoke of playing with his young son and how blessed he felt to have recovered completely.

Know the signs

It was handy that my patient was married to someone who knew the signs of stroke. But everyone, not just medical professionals, can recognize most strokes by following the FAST acronym. In fact, a study showed that the FAST acronym can identify up to 89 percent of all strokes — all we have to do is learn it.

Knowing what FAST stands for — Face drooping (usually on one side), Arm weakness (the arm may drift down or feel numb), Speech difficulty (slurred speech or trouble getting words out or understanding others), and Time to call 911 — can make the difference in stroke recovery and survival.

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‘Sobering Facts’ About Women and Stroke

sarah-song-mdBy Sarah Song, MD, MPH

Did you know that there are more women affected by stroke than men? Presently in the U.S., there are 3.8 million female stroke survivors, compared to 3 million male stroke survivors. Though stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in men, it is the third leading cause of death in women.

As our population ages, this divide between the genders will increase, with even more women having strokes than men. Not only that, but women are — for a variety of reasons — more likely to recover poorly from stroke, more likely to be in an institutional setting post-stroke, and more likely to be widowed and isolated after stroke.

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Stroke Heroes

Lynne Braun, PhD, CNP

Lynne Braun, PhD, CNP

By Lynne Braun, PhD, CNP

May is American Stroke Month, and volunteers from the American Heart/American Stroke Association gathered at the state capital to recognize Sen. Heather Steans, Rep. Robyn Gabel, and former Rep. Bob Biggins for their work to improve outcomes for stroke patients over the last five years. Stroke is the nation’s No. 4 killer and the No. 1 cause of severe disability.

Five years ago, Sen. Steans and Rep. Biggins, a stroke survivor, championed the groundbreaking Illinois Primary Stroke Center law of 2009. Since that time, 39 hospitals have been designated as Primary Stroke Centers, and five hospitals have been designated as Emergent Stroke Ready Hospitals, with many more waiting approval. These specifically designated stroke hospitals offer higher levels of stroke care, with strict national and/or state certification processes. EMS providers are directed to take stroke patients directly to these designated stroke centers, bypassing hospitals less able to provide high quality stroke care.

Sen. Steans and Rep. Gabel took the next step by introducing House Bill 5742, legislation that will keep stroke care moving in Illinois. This crucial legislation will allow Illinois to take full advantage of advances in technology, techniques, and standards of stroke care which have been developed since 2009, including:

  • Allowing the Illinois Department of Public Health to designate Comprehensive Stroke Centers, the highest level of stroke care available;
  • Align Emergent Stroke Ready Hospitals with National Acute Stroke Ready standards;
  • Facilitate the creation of an Illinois stroke data registry, a critical tool for continuing quality improvement.

In a press conference on May 22, as chair of the Illinois Advocacy Committee, I had the privilege of presenting Sen. Steans, Rep. Biggins and Rep. Gabel with Stroke Hero Awards. Shortly thereafter, I witnessed the almost unanimous approval of HB 5742 in the Senate. The bill now awaits the governor’s signature.

The Stroke Program at Rush has met the highest level certification standards by the American Stroke Association and the Joint Commission as a Comprehensive Stroke Center. Recently, Rush was awarded the Gold Plus Performance Achievement by the American Stroke Association.

Bill’s Story: Cerebral Angioplasty After a Stroke

Bill Metcalf’s stroke came, like so many, “out of nowhere.”

“I had no symptoms for it, it was not on my general practitioner’s watch list, and fortunately I came out of it OK,” he says.

But over the next year, Metcalf experienced disorientation and a sense that “something wasn’t right.” Upon meeting with neurosurgeon Demetrius Lopes, MD, he opted to undergo a cerebral angioplasty to treat a narrowed artery in his brain.

“My family’s had way more experience with this hospital than any family should … and then I come in and do a cerebral angioplasty.”

“It’s like I think we’ve tested every department here, and without fail, Rush has always been 100 percent tops.”

Dan’s Story: Stroke Like Being ‘Struck By Lightning’

In some families, lightning can strike twice. Just months after his wife, Ruta, was diagnosed and treated at Rush University Medical Center for what doctors describe as a one-in-a-million type of sinus cancer, Dan, then 42, experienced the worst headache of his life. While helping his brother-in-law shovel snow, his vision turned blue. “My head felt like it was struck by lightning,” he says.

Emergency personnel took Dan to a local hospital where, after CT evaluation, it was quickly decided to transfer him to Rush, which has a comprehensive stroke program and the highest volume of stroke patients in Illinois. Fortunately for Dan, the local hospital participated in Rush’s expedited transfer service for people suffering from strokes.

With just one phone call from a physician, patients can be transferred to Rush and receive immediate medical attention from a team of stroke specialists, which is led by stroke neurologist Shyam Prabhakaran, MD. Since each passing minute jeopardizes brain health, prompt medical intervention for Dan was critical. Continue reading