It can come on quickly with or without warning signs and can strike anyone regardless of age, race or gender. Recovery is possible, but not guaranteed. This attack on the brain is a stroke and everyone needs to be aware of this monster.
According to the National Stroke Association, a stroke occurs when one of the arteries that carry blood to the brain from the heart either is blocked or bursts. Part of the brain does not get the blood it needs so it starts to die. When a stroke damages a certain part of the brain, that area may no longer work as well as it did before the stroke and can cause problems with walking, speaking, seeing or feeling.
There are two types of stroke, said Jerilyn Alexander, registered nurse and stroke program coordinator for Trinity Health. One type of stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery, cutting off the flow of blood to a part of the brain, and is the most common type of stroke. Unless nearby blood vessels can deliver enough blood to the affected area, brain cells will begin to die and stroke survivors will start to have problems using certain parts of their bodies or completely lose some abilities. The other type of stroke, Alexander explained, occurs when there is bleeding into the brain from a blood vessel in the brain. The bleeding causes brain cells to die, and that part of the brain no longer works correctly. High blood pressure is the main cause of this type of stroke.
Jerilyn Alexander, registered nurse and stroke program coordinator at Trinity Health, sits in her office Tuesday afternoon. She said November 2012 has been the record month for number of strokes and have been averaging about 20 each month for 2012.
Most people don't recognize the signs of stroke, Alexander said.
"People go into denial," she said. "If I just lie down, the numbness will go away, they think."
The National Stroke Association, however, recognizes several symptoms, including sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body; sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; and sudden severe headache with no known cause. Less common symptoms are sudden nausea and vomiting (different from a viral illness because of how it begins within minutes or hours as opposed to several days), and brief loss of consciousness or a period of decreased consciousness like fainting, confusion, convulsions or coma.
"Some people will have TIA (transient ischemic attack), which precipitates a stroke," Alexander noted. That's when an artery leading to the brain or inside the brain becomes blocked for a short period of time and the blood flow to an area of the brain slows or stops, according to the National Stroke Association. It's also known as a mini-stroke with symptoms like numbness, trouble speaking and loss of balance or coordination. Symptoms commonly last for a short time and then disappear, but they are a serious warning sign of stroke and should not be ignored.
There is a very short time frame between someone experiencing a stroke and treatment, unfortunately. There's a drug on the market that's a clot buster, so if the person gets to the hospital within three hours, he or she can be given that, Alexander said. However, there are a lot of exclusions, which in turn make people ineligible for the drug, and it's also risky, she added.
"Most folks in the region do not present (stroke symptoms by coming to the emergency room) in a timely fashion," she said.
People think they may as well be dead if they have a stroke, Alexander remarked, but Trinity has an outstanding therapy department. The earlier they can start stimulating the person's brain, the better the outcome will be, she also said. Recovery depends on the person, where the stroke was, and how big it was, Alexander added.
"A lot of it is mind over matter and if you want to get better," she said.
There are quite a few causes of stroke, including factors that a person can and cannot change. Some causes that can be changed by the person are blood pressure, smoking, drinking, managing diabetes and eating a diet that's low in sodium, Alexander explained. Factors that a person can't change, however, are family history and men seem to have strokes more than women. If a family member had a stroke, she noted, you're at a higher risk for having one, too.
Some ways in which stroke can be prevented, according to the National Stroke Association, are to know your blood pressure; find out if you have atrial fibrillation; stop smoking; drink alcohol in moderation; know your cholesterol numbers; manage your diabetes; exercise at least 30 minutes a day; eat a diet low in sodium and a lower fat diet; and work with your doctor to control circulation problems, if you have them. Most importantly, if you have any stroke symptoms or see them in someone else, call 911.
Alexander said she has seen stroke in people as young as 21, which has been the youngest age this year.
"We're seeing younger people and folks in their 90s having strokes," she added. "There is no age group."
Strokes are not as deadly as they used to be, Alexander noted. People are more aware and are coming in earlier, she added. November might have been the month for the record for the number of strokes, Alexander pointed out.
"We've been averaging about 20 (strokes) per month since 2012, but there's also the influx of people," she noted.
The best piece of advice that Alexander said she could give to someone for preventing a stroke would be to take care of yourself and manage your risk factors from a young age. The sooner the doctors and nurses can treat a person, the better they can minimize the effects of stroke, she also said.
"Come to the hospital right away, call 911. Don't wait until a family member gets off work to take you, just come right away," she said.