With Strokes, Every Minute Matters

May is National Stroke Awareness Month – a good time to brush up on what stroke is, how it can affect you and what you can do to prevent it.

What, exactly, isa stroke? A stroke is a “brain attack” that occurs when a blood vessel thatsupplies blood to the brain is blocked by a blood clot, or when a weakenedblood vessel in the brain bursts. In the past, victims who survived a strokewere often left permanently disabled. New technologies and therapies, however,have made it possible to not just survive a stroke but to fully recover andlive an active, fulfilling life.

Stroke is thefifth leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers forDisease Control & Prevention (CDC), and the leading cause of long-termdisability. On average, someone in the U.S. has a stroke every 40 seconds; andsomeone dies from a stroke every three to four minutes.

Curiously,however, neurologists have noted a significant decrease in the number of strokecases presenting at hospitals over the past few months. Felipe De Los Rios, M.D., neurologist and medical director, strokeprogram at Miami Neuroscience Institute, part of Baptist Health, says the number ofcases he and his colleagues have seen has dropped at least 40 percent sinceFebruary.

It’s not thatfewer people are having strokes, Dr. De Los Rios explains. He believes morepeople are simply ignoring their symptoms – perhaps because, in the midst of aglobal pandemic, they’re avoiding hospitals and possible exposure to theCOVID-19 virus.

Felipe De Los Rios, M.D.
neurologist and medical director, stroke program, Miami Neuroscience Institute

“People need tounderstand the risk of not seeking care the minute stroke symptoms appear,” Dr.De Los Rios says. “COVID-19 has a mortality rate of up to eight percent forpeople age 70 to 79, and up to 15 percent for people 80 and older. Bycomparison, the mortality rate for stroke victims age 75 and older is around 35percent within the first 30 days, and close to 60 percent after 24 months.”

Dr. De Los Riosadds that Baptist Health has instituted rigorous patient safetypractices and stringentinfection control procedures to ensure the safety of patients and staff atall of its facilities throughout South Florida.

What are the riskfactors for stroke? There are quite a few, including high cholesterol, smoking,obesity, diabetes and age. But the number one risk factor for stroke is highblood pressure because of the stress it puts on your body’s blood vessels. TheCDC says nearly 80 percent of those having a first stroke have high bloodpressure.

How can you recognize a stroke?

Stroke symptoms appearsuddenly and can include:

  • Numbness orweakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side
  • Confusion ortrouble speaking or understanding speech
  • Trouble seeing inone or both eyes
  • Difficultywalking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Severe headachewith no known cause

Dr. DeLos Rios recommends that you think F.A.S.T. if you see someone with one or more of these symptoms:

F – Face drooping: Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile uneven or lopsided?

A – Arm weakness: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downwards?

S Speech: Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence.

TTime to call 911: When someone suffers a stroke, time is of the essence. If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if this symptom goes away, call 911 and get them to the hospital immediately.

Every minute matters

When you suffer an acute stroke, whathappens next could mean the difference between facing a lifetime of disabilityor walking out of the hospital on your own two feet. Doctors refer to the“golden window” as the period of time – usually less than three to four hours –when a stroke can still be treated before the brain suffers lasting injury.

“Stroke care can be quitecomplicated and therapies have to be delivered fast,” says Dr. De Los Rios.   “As a Comprehensive Stroke Center, Baptisthas highly skilled specialists, including neurologists, neurosurgeons and interventionalneuro-radiologists, who are capable of managing even the most complex strokecases.”

When astroke call comes in from paramedics, the B.E.S.T.(Baptist Emergency Stroke Team) Stroke Team is mobilized so that the patientcan be diagnosed and treated immediately upon arrival. Doctors need to knowwhat kind of stroke they’re dealing with before they can treat it.

Ischemic strokes, which are causedby a blood clot blocking blood vessels leading to the brain, thereby cuttingoff the brain’s oxygen supply, account for roughly 80 percent of all strokecases. Hemorrhagic strokes occur when a blood vessel in the brain bursts andblood leaks into the brain. These are not as common as ischemic strokes but canbe far deadlier.

“The most important thing you cando if someone is exhibiting signs of having suffered a stroke is to call 911 –don’t drive the victim to the hospital yourself,” Dr. De Los Rios advises.“Paramedics are trained to stabilize stroke victims en route to the hospital andwill call ahead to alert the stroke team.”

Preventing a stroke

Although you can’t do anything to reverse the aging process, fortunately, you can reduce other risk factors for stroke. High blood pressure and cholesterol can be managed with simple lifestyle changes; if this is not enough, your doctor can prescribe medications that will keep them both at healthy levels. Diabetic? Make sure you take your meds and watch your diet. Are you a smoker? Ask your doctor for advice or visit tobaccofreeflorida.com for strategies on how to quit. Overweight or obese? Losing even just five to ten pounds can help – not just with stroke but with many other health conditions as well.

LEARN MORE ABOUT STROKE: Special Webcast May 14th at 4:30 pm EST. “Stroke and COVID-19: What You Need to Know” Please click this URL to join: RGZ0RDVCYm5lZllEcDlrMWhlL2w0UT09 Password: zoom

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 13 hospitals, more than 23,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 100 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.