Your Questions Answered – How to recognize signs of stroke

May 12, 2023 — In this column, PeaceHealth experts address current health issues and topics impacting our amazing Florence community. We hope you find it informative. If you have any suggestions for topics, please send them to Dr. Willy Foster at [email protected].

Each year, 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke, making it the leading cause of disability and fifth-leading cause of death among adults.

We can help reduce those numbers by knowing our risk factors and working with our primary care provider to make changes in exercise and diet to lower our risks. Everyone in the community has role to play by knowing how to recognize the signs of stroke and acting quickly when they see them.

What is a stroke? Strokes happen when blood can’t flow to the brain—either because a clot is in the way or a blood vessel in the brain leaks or bursts.

What are the main types of stroke?

About 85 percent of strokes are ischemic (pronounced is-key-mick) when blood flow to the brain is blocked. The rest are hemorrhagic (pronounced hem-or-agic) when a blood vessel in the brain bursts or leaks. Blood rushes in and puts pressure on parts of the brain and chokes off blood supply. Blood in brain tissue also sets off inflammation--the body’s natural immune response. This can further damage the brain.

Recent treatment advances are lessening death and disability among people who experience ischemic strokes. Medications can break up clots and restore blood flow to the brain. Surgeons can remove clots in a procedure called thrombectomy.

However less is said and known about hemorrhagic strokes, which are more difficult to treat. When someone has this type of stroke, it’s more likely they will have life-altering symptoms. Researchers in hemorrhagic stroke have yet to discover ways to reduce long-term disability.

How can stroke be prevented? An important way to prevent stroke is to keep blood pressure under 120/80. High blood pressure is also called hypertension, and it can run in families. Those whose parents or family members have high blood pressure might develop it too.

A person can work with their primary care provider to keep their blood pressure under control. Exercise, diet and medications can help prevent stroke and other long-term health conditions.

Other factors that can set the stage for hemorrhagic stroke include blood vessel conditions, bleeding disorders, aneurysms (ballooning of blood vessels in the brain) or use of illegal drugs.

Lane County has seen a rise in people with brain hemorrhage due to their use of methamphetamines.

How can someone lower their risk for stroke?

· Keep track of blood pressure readings (under120/80).

· Get or stay physically active.

· Maintain a healthy weight.

· Eat nutritious foods. Aim for less than one teaspoon of salt a day.

· Avoid using drugs not prescribed by a medical provider.

· Limit alcohol intake.

How can you tell if a person is having a stroke, and what should you do to help them? It’s essential for everyone to know how to recognize stroke symptoms because those experiencing a stroke often lack awareness of their symptoms. It is family members, friends or bystanders who must call 911. Use the simple acronym BE FAST to remember the signs of stroke and what to do. Look for sudden changes in:

· Balance – loss of balance or weakness on one side

· Eyesight – blur or loss of vision

· Face – drooping on one side

· Arm – weakness or drooping on one side

· Speech –inability to speak or slurred words

The “T” is for time – a reminder to call 911 quickly. Stroke is an emergency!

If someone had a stroke in Florence and needed advanced services, what is the closest facility that could provide them? PeaceHealth Peace Harbor Medical Center staff are trained to quickly recognize when someone is having a stroke. They consult the Comprehensive Stroke Center at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield to make a treatment plan. Transfer to RiverBend may be needed for additional services, such as emergency mechanical thrombectomy for a large clot in the arteries of the brain. EMS responders also are trained to recognize stroke symptoms and follow protocols to respond quickly to get the care needed.

What resources are available for stroke survivors and family caregivers in the Florence area?

The Stroke Survivors Support group at RiverBend is open to the public and free of charge. A social support meeting for stroke survivors and caregivers meets via Zoom the third Wednesday of each month, 10:30 a.m.-noon. Please contact Victoria at 541-222-8461 for more information and to be added to the Zoom meeting.