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Why Stroke Treatment is Time Sensitive and 5 More Things You Need to Know

Stroke is the leading cause of disability and the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. About 800,000 people suffer from a stroke each year in the U.S.


If you think someone is having a stroke, it’s imperative to call 911 immediately – getting medical attention when someone is having a stroke is crucial for two big reasons.

First, the longer someone suffers a stroke, the higher the chances of disability or death.

“Every minute someone is having a stroke, 1.9 million brain cells are lost,” said Colleen Boyle, stroke program coordinator at Abington-Jefferson Health.

The second reason is that stroke treatments must be administered within a certain window of time.

“There is a treatment available called tissue plasminogen activator, also known as tPA,” Boyle said. “This treatment is given intravenously for up to three hours, or up to four-and-a-half hours for some eligible patients after the start of stroke symptoms.

tPA works by dissolving blood clots and improving blood flow to the area of the brain being deprived of oxygen. Another stroke treatment option for eligible patients is mechanical endovascular retrieval, which is also known as clot retrieval, Boyle said.

Here are a few more things you need to know about strokes:

1. Blood flow is cut off to the brain during a stroke

Regardless of what kind of stroke someone is suffering, the cause is a lack of blood flow to the brain, which deprives cells of oxygen. This ultimately causes brain death.

2. There are three types of stroke

The three kinds of strokes include a transient ischemic attack (TIA), ischemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke.

“When a person has a TIA, there is a short period of interruption in blood flow to the brain and the person experiences symptoms,” Boyle explained. “Once circulation is restored, the symptoms disappear within a few minutes to 24 hours.”

Although a TIA doesn’t cause permanent brain damage, it can be a warning sign of a future stroke – 40 percent of people who have a TIA will go on to have an actual stroke, Boyle said.

During an ischemic stroke, the most common type of stroke, interruption in blood flow to the brain isn’t temporary.

“This interruption is caused by a blood clot that does not clear and circulation to the brain is not restored,” Boyle said.

The third type of stroke, a hemorrhagic stroke, only accounts for about 15 percent of strokes, but is responsible for about 40 percent of all stroke-related deaths.

“A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a brain aneurysm bursts or a weakened blood vessel, usually due to high blood pressure, leaks blood into or around the brain,” Boyle said.

3. Knowing the signs and symptoms of a stroke can save a life

“Early recognition of stroke allows for earlier intervention,” Boyle said.

  • Signs someone may be having a stroke include:
  • Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden difficulty in vision in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause

Register for a Heart and Stroke Risk Assessment and Blood Pressure Screening

Abington - Jefferson Health is pleased to offer community-based free heart and stroke risk assessments and blood pressure screenings. Take steps necessary to monitor your blood pressure and assess your risk for heart attack or stroke.

4. It’s important to know the acronym F.A.S.T.

“We teach the acronym F.A.S.T. It’s an easy way for people to remember and quickly identify the most common signs and symptoms of stroke,” Boyle said.

  • Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is his or her speech slurred or strange?
  • Time: If you observe any of these signs, call 911 immediately. If you can, note the time you observed the first symptom.

“There is a F.A.S.T app available for download through the Apple App Store or Google Play,” Boyle suggested.

5. There are some risk factors for stroke you can control

“Everyone should know his or her own risk factors for stroke,” Boyle said. “There are risk factors that cannot be changed and [there are also factors that] can be changed, treated or managed.”

Stroke risk factors that can’t be changed include age, family history, race, sex and a prior stroke, TIA or heart attack. However, the risk factors that can be changed, treated or managed include high blood pressure, smoking cigarettes, diabetes, carotid or other artery disease, peripheral artery disease, atrial fibrillation, coronary artery disease or heart failure, sickle cell disease, high cholesterol, poor diet, physical inactivity and obesity, and alcohol or drug abuse.

For a referral to an Abington - Jefferson Health physician, please call 215-481-MEDI (6334) or search our online directory.

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