Your Questions Answered – Stroke Prevention and Treatment

May 25, 2022 — 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]. 

May is national Stroke Awareness Month, which provides an opportunity to help educate our community about stroke prevention, recognizing stroke symptoms and services available at PeaceHealth Peace Harbor Medical Center and at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield. RiverBend’s stroke center is an accredited Comprehensive Stroke Center by Det Norske Veritas (DNV).

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. Strokes can occur at any age, for any race or gender. Fortunately, 80 percent of strokes are preventable through modifying risk factors and making healthy lifestyle changes.

What is a stroke? Strokes happen when blood flow to the brain is disrupted — by a blood clot or a blood vessel rupture. Ischemic stroke accounts for nearly 85 percent of strokes, occurring when blood flow to the brain is blocked. The remaining 15 percent are hemorrhagic strokes, caused by a blood vessel in the brain leaking or bursting. With a stroke, every second counts. Nearly 2 million brain cells die every minute a stroke remains untreated. Rapid access to medical treatment can make the difference between permanent disability and full recovery. 

What is the single most important risk factor for stroke? Hypertension, which is defined as chronically high blood pressure. It’s important to know and understand your numbers. Blood pressure readings contain two numbers, systolic and diastolic. Systolic refers to the blood released from the heart with each heartbeat. Diastolic is when the heart rests and fills with oxygen and blood. High blood pressure Stage 1 starts at systolic 130-139 or diastolic 80-89. Hypertensive crisis is defined as systolic above 180 and or diastolic above 120. 

How can someone lower their risk for stroke? Fortunately, 80 percent of strokes are preventable through modifying risk factors. Talk with your doctor about creating a stroke prevention and action plan to help you make lifestyle changes.

 To reduce your risk of stroke: 

  • Stay physically active and maintain a healthy weight 
  • Eat healthy: Limit salt, refined sugars and saturated fats 
  • Get help to stop using illegal drugs. If you don’t use drugs, don’t start. Reach out to friends and local resources to get help to stop smoking.
  • Limit your alcohol and cannabis use.
  • Know your numbers: 
    • Normal blood pressure is below 120/80 (systolic/diastolic)
    • Normal cholesterol is less than 200 (LDL “bad” cholesterol is less than 100) 
    • Goal HBA1C for diabetics is less than 7 percent (a test of blood sugar attached to hemoglobin)

Do strokes only occur in the senior population? No, unfortunately the incidence of stroke is rising in younger adults. Stroke among adults 49 and younger has risen 40 percent over the past 20 years, according to published reports. Stroke in young people is particularly devastating because many are primary bread winners and parents of young children. 

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 own symptoms. It is family members, friends or bystanders who must call 911. To recognize stroke symptoms, use the simple acronym BE FAST. Look for sudden changes in Balance, Eyesight, Face, Arms and Speech. The final “T” is for time — a reminder to call 911. 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 and consult the Stroke Team at RiverBend in Springfield to formulate a treatment plan. Transfer to RiverBend may be needed if additional services are required, such as emergency mechanical thrombectomy for a large clot in the arteries of the brain. EMS responders are trained to recognize stroke symptoms and have protocols in place for rapid treatment to get you the care you need.

What’s new at RiverBend’s Stroke Program? 

PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend achieved Comprehensive Stroke Center certification in 2019. Our center is honored to continue to advance neurointerventional surgical services to improve outcomes for people experiencing strokes or aneurysms in our region. Thanks to a generous $1 million grant from the Runnin’ Wild Fund of Oregon Community Foundation, RiverBend recently upgraded its minimally invasive equipment, called a neuro biplane. This donation has sparked a fundraising effort to raise an additional $1.2 million by June 30, 2022 to finish our program expansion with an additional room equipped with a second neuro biplane. RiverBend’s neurointerventional team treats patients for disorders of the blood vessels feeding the head, neck, brain and spine. This new equipment will enable our team to serve more patients and help ensure that a neuro biplane is always available for emergency cases. We look forward to continuing to meet the growing demand for neurointerventional surgical services in our region.

Where can I learn more about stroke? 

  • Stroke Center:
  • Stroke and Neurovascular Disorders:
  • Oregon Stroke Network: 
  • American Stroke Association:

The Stroke Survivor Support group at RiverBend is open to the public and free of charge. The group currently meets via Zoom. If you would like more information about the support group, or would like members of our Stroke Team to provide an educational presentation to your group or organization, contact us at [email protected].