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Be Aware of Stroke Symptoms and Causes

Written by Ryan Stevens on in Health & Wellness

Stroke is the leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and all forms of cancer combined. According to recent accounting, stroke kills approximately 140,000 Americans each year. If you put that into a context that we can more easily understand, that means that 1 out of every 20 deaths in our nation is attributed to stroke. 

Stroke is the leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and all forms of cancer combined. According to recent accounting, stroke kills approximately 140,000 Americans each year. If you put that into a context that we can more easily understand, that means that 1 out of every 20 deaths in our nation is attributed to stroke. 

And it’s not just death. Stroke is also the leading cause of adult disability – 795,000 people suffer strokes each year. On an average, someone suffers a stroke every 40 seconds in the U.S., and stroke kills more than twice as many American women every year than breast cancer.  

Most of us have heard the term stroke, and may even know someone who has had one. But do you know how it happens? 

A stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel or artery, or when a blood vessel breaks, interrupting blood flow to an area of the brain. When a stroke occurs, it kills brain cells in the area surrounding where the clot or breakage occurs.  

There are two types of stroke: 

  • Ischemic Strokes can occur two ways and are the most common, accounting for approximately 87 percent of strokes. 
  1. Embolic: Clot travels to the brain from another part of the body 
  1. Thrombotic: Clot develops in an artery  
  • Hemorrhagic Stroke is the second type of stroke which occurs when a blood vessel in the brain breaks or ruptures.  While hemorrhagic stroke is less common, it’s more deadly. 

Despite the prevalence of stroke, you should know that up to 80 percent of all strokes are preventable. 

Here are a number of key factors that can help you increase your chances of avoiding strokes. 

  1. Know your blood pressure.  Have it checked at least annually.  If it’s elevated, work with your healthcare professional to keep it under control.  Having high blood pressure, or hypertension increases stroke risk four to six times.  
  2. Find out if you have atrial fibrillation – a type of irregular heartbeat.  If left untreated, Afib can increase stroke risk four to six times.  
  3. If you smoke, stop.  Smoking doubles stroke risk. 
  4. Incorporate physical activity that you enjoy into your daily routine.  Active people tend to have lower cholesterol levels.  Regular exercise also seems to slow down or stop clogging of blood vessels. 
  5. Enjoy a low-sodium (salt) and low-fat diet.  Too much salt may contribute to high blood pressure and make it more difficult to control.  A diet that is low in fat will likely include vegetables, lean meats such as chicken and fish, low-fat dairy products and a limited number of eggs. 
  6. Ask your healthcare professional if you have circulation problems which increase your risk of stroke. If you do, work with your healthcare professional to control this condition. 
  7. If you experience any stroke symptoms, seek immediate medical attention by calling 9-1-1.  Every minute matters! 

One way to help remember the symptoms of stroke and what to do is to learn the Face, Arms, Speech Time test, otherwise known as FAST: 

 F = FACE: ask the person to smile – do both sides of the face move equally? If one side of the face does not move at all, that is abnormal. 

A = ARM: ask the person to raise both arms – do both arms move equally? If one arm drifts downward compared to the other, that’s abnormal. 

S = SPEECH: ask the person to speak a simple sentence – Does the person use correct words with no slurring? If they slur their speech, use an inappropriate word or are unable to speak at all, that’s abnormal. 

T = TIME: to call 911 – if you observe any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately.  

In May 2015, Santa Barbara County’s Emergency Medical Services collaborated with all hospitals in our county to work together in Acute Stroke Readiness.  Over several months physicians and nursing leaders from these facilities along with EMS personnel collaborated in researching and sharing developing evidence-based practices.  LVMC was designated by our county EMS and accreditation body CIHQ as an acute Stroke Ready Hospital in Jan 2016 and now has an acute Code Stroke Team to address these specific health issues. In collaboration with Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, LVMC provides 24/7 access to neurological consults via a 5-foot-tall computerized mobile robot.  

       In 2017, LVMC had 108 teleneurology consults, 59 of them were Code Stroke. Prior to our designation as a Stroke Ready hospital, EMS patients arriving with symptoms of stroke would have been redirected to Cottage Hospital. With the LVMC Code Stroke program, we are keeping our patients local and making sure they are treated quickly and effectively.  

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Author: Ryan Stevens, ED Nurse Manager

Ryan Stevens is the LVMC Emergency Department Nurse Manager. He has been employed at LVMC since 2011. Ryan earned his Associate’s degree in registered nursing in 2011 from Santa Barbara City College. He is a member of the Allan Hancock College Advisory Committee.