According to the National Stroke Association strokes are the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, killing over 133,000 people each year. Strokes are also a leading cause of serious, long-term adult disability. Current studies show that almost 800,000 people will suffer a stroke this year. This article is especially personal to me; earlier this year my wife became one of those 800,000. We were fortunate many times over, and as of this writing she has recovered fully from the event.
Symptoms and Response
The National Stroke Association uses the F.A.S.T. acronym to help people recognize and respond to stroke symptoms.
F: Face. If you suspect someone is having a stroke, ask them to smile. Look to see if one side of the face is drooping.
A: Arms. Ask the person to raise both arms, and look to see if one arm is drifting downward.
S: Speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
T: Time. If you observe any of the above symptoms, call 911 immediately. Time is of the utmost importance when dealing with a possible stroke.
In my wife’s case, we were having a conversation and she didn’t respond to a question directed at her. I repeated the question and she stared at me with a blank look on her face. I instantly suspected that she was having a stroke, and told her that I was going to call 911 if she didn’t respond. She didn’t, so I called for the ambulance. In less than a half hour she was in the emergency room.
Treatment and Patient Advocacy
Most strokes are caused by blood clots (ischemic), blocking flow to the brain. About 87% of all strokes are ischemic. The best treatment for this type of stroke is thrombolytic therapy, in which a tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA, is administered to the patient in order to dissolve the clot. Note the time when the symptoms first appear, as the tPA must be administered within three hours in order to be most effective. Patients receiving the tPA within this three hour time frame have a 33% greater chance of a full recovery.
I learned about tPA by using my smart phone to do an Internet search for stroke treatment while the EMTs were advising the emergency room staff of my wife’s condition. I didn’t know it going in, but we were in a small town hospital that routinely refused to give tPA, preferring to transfer their stroke patients to a hospital in a larger town, half an hour away. This eats up precious time that the patient may not have. I was relentless in my insistence that my wife receive the tPA, and two hours and forty-five minutes after I noticed the first symptom they administered this life-saving treatment. As the two nurses walked into the room, one of them remarked to the other,
“I can’t remember the last time we gave tPA at this hospital!”
Thankfully, the other nurse was a new transfer, and said that they administered it all the time at her previous place of employment. Ten minutes later my wife was transferred by ambulance to the larger hospital.
You are at the very least as important to your loved-one’s recovery as the medical staff. The E.R. doctor at the first hospital actually tried to convince me that a four or five hour window was perfectly okay when it came to administering the tPA, when the National Stroke Association’s website clearly stated that the treatment was only effective in the first three hours. In fact, they italicized three hours in their literature.
When we arrived at the next hospital the intensive care staff was amazed that my wife had received the tPA. Apparently our small town hospital was infamous for refusing to give this treatment, despite the fact that three members of the staff at the second hospital felt that the tPA had actually saved my wife’s life. Twelve hours after she had the stroke, my wife woke up wondering why and how she was in the hospital. She was released two days later with a clean bill of health, having made a full recovery. This was in large part because of the excellent care she received at the second hospital, but also due to the fact that I insisted that she receive the proper care at the first hospital. Never be afraid to ask questions and insist that your loved-one gets the care they deserve. Better to have a stranger think that you’re rude than to lose someone you love.
Know your blood pressure, and keep it under control. High blood pressure is a leading cause of stroke, as is high cholesterol.
Quit smoking. Cigarette smoking doubles your chance for a stroke.
Lose weight. Being overweight is also a risk factor. A simple change in your diet could lessen your risk of having a stroke by as much as 42 percent.
Exercise and regular medical checkups are important to maintain your good health.
Moderate exercise helps to reduce the risk of stroke by improving your life in many areas, such as keeping your weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure down to accepted levels. Studies have also shown that smokers who stick to an exercise program tend to smoke less. Some are even able to kick the habit.
Eat foods with a naturally high level of vitamin “C”. Broccoli is part of the cabbage family and originated in Italy. It did not gain popularity in the US until the 1920′s. Recent studies have shown that this vitamin “C” rich vegetable dramatically reduced stroke risk in middle aged and older participants. The current theory is that the high levels of antioxidant in vitamin “C” are the reason for broccoli’s protective effects against strokes.
You may also want to add Brussels sprouts to your diet. Brussels sprouts are another vitamin “C” rich winter vegetable known to lower the risk of stroke. Also related to the cabbage and again, Italian in origin, they started to be cultivated in Belgium around the year 1200AD. Gaining popularity at my house, they’ve been enjoyed in the US since the early 1800′s.
Citrus is a sweet, reliable alternative to those of us that just can’t love the sprout. Oranges are famously high in vitamin “C”, and are available in supermarkets year round. Other vitamin “C” rich foods include cantaloupes, strawberries, tomatoes, cabbage, kiwi fruit and sweet red peppers.
While everyone should learn the symptoms of a stroke and be prepared to fight for the best treatment, the most effective treatment for any illness is prevention.