The Good News about Stroke

Residences at Deer Creek recently hosted a seminar by Neurologist Sarah Song, MD, MPH, FAHA, FAAN, Associate Professor in the Section of Cerebrovascular Disease, in the Department of Neurological Sciences, of Rush University Medical Center. Dr. Song specializes in the study, prevention, and treatment of stroke. Her message by and large was that stroke is a treatable and preventable disease – good news indeed!

What is a Stroke?

A stroke is a blockage or a breakage of a blood vessel in our brain. Blood vessels travel throughout the whole body, from the heart which pumps blood out to every organ, including out to the arms and legs, and especially to our brain. When a blood vessel in our brain is blocked, brain damage can occur because of lack of blood flow.

There are various causes for stroke, some of which include problems with the heart such as rhythm problems, heart attacks, or problems with the heart pumping. Other issues can be caused by problems with blood, such as an infection, or blood thickening. Other problems can be caused by issues with the vessels themselves such as hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis. Some causes of atherosclerosis include cholesterol build up in the blood, high blood pressure, smoking, and diabetes. Atherosclerosis causes heart attacks and strokes by blocking vessels in our heart and brain. It can also cause narrowing in our neck vessels, called carotid stenosis.

While there are some stroke risk factors we cannot control, such as age (risk doubles each decade after 55), gender (men have 50% higher risk as women), race-ethnicity (African American, Hispanic, and Asians have twice the risk as Caucasians), and genetics (first degree relatives have a higher risk), there are many risk factors we can control.

Talk to your doctor about steps you can take to prevent stroke. Some stroke risk factors we CAN control include:

High blood pressure
• Smoking cigarettes
High cholesterol
Coronary artery disease (heart attacks)
• Heart problems (irregular heart rhythms, congestive heart failure)

When you think you or someone else might be having a stroke, call 911 as quickly as possible. Symptoms to be mindful of include:

• Arm or leg weakness on one side
• Facial droop
• Numbness on one side
• Difficulty understanding
• Garbled speech
• Blurred or loss of vision on one side
• Inability to walk straight
• Loss of coordination
• Loss of memory
• Severe headache for no reason

If you or someone else is experiencing any of these symptoms, Dr. Song was adamant that the only option is to call 911 immediately. The reason for this is that there is only one medication approved to treat stroke, but it has to be given within three or four and a half hours. It’s called TPA, and the sooner the medication is given, the better chance it has of working.
This means it is important to not wait and see if it gets better, or lay down and take a nap. The only thing to do is call 911.

TPA is given through an IV, and takes about an hour. It breaks up any blood clots, including clots in the brain. By receiving the medication, the symptoms of a stroke might be improved, or even go away completely. Not everyone will qualify to receive the medication, so it helps to be seen as soon as possible.

The Best Things to do to Prevent a stroke are:

• Eat healthfully
• Take medications as prescribed
• See your doctors regularly
• Reduce stress as much as possible
• Exercise regularly
• Be proactive about your health
• Don’t smoke

Dr. Song reiterated that stroke is a preventable and treatable disease, given the guidelines for treatment are followed, and empowered the seminar attendees to take charge of their health, and to call 911 right away it there is a suspected stroke.