When Jeanne Habash talks about strokes, there is one bit of advice she emphasizes: Act quickly because timing is of the essence.
Habash, St. Rose Health Center physician assistant, is using the observance of American Stroke Month in May to raise awareness on the multi-layered topic.
“Any time you think a person is having a stroke, call 911,” she stressed. “It is important that diagnosis and treatment are performed right away.
“We know people hesitate to call because they think they might be over-reacting,” she continued. “But it is better to have a health-care provider determine what is happening.”
Patients who receive treatment within three hours of their first symptoms tend to have less disability three months after a stroke than those who delay care, Habash noted.
An acronym that is used nationwide may help people remember stroke symptoms.
F.A.S.T. stands for: Facial drooping; Arm weakness; Speech difficulty; and Time, indicating the importance of calling 911 right away.
A stroke is a brain attack. It happens if an artery that feeds blood to the brain gets clogged, or tears and breaks. Habash outlined the basics of three types of stroke.
An ischemic stroke is the most common. Blood vessels to the brain become narrowed or clogged with fatty deposits called plaque. This cuts off blood flow to brain cells. High blood pressure is the most important risk factor.
Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel bursts in or near the brain. Blood collects in brain tissue, causing cells to weaken and die.
A transient ischemic attack, commonly known as a TIA, is a mini-stroke. Blood flow is blocked for a short time – usually no more than five minutes. It is a sign of a future stroke and should be treated just like a major event; there is no way to tell which type of stroke is involved during the first few minutes.
Possible stroke results include: weakness or paralysis on one side of the body; difficulty speaking; trouble swallowing; fatigue; loss of control of emotions and mood changes; problems with memory and judgment; personality changes; decreased field of vision; depression and lack of motivation; and frustration, anger and sadness.
Stroke treatment sometimes entails medication to break up blood clots. Or, a doctor may perform an endovascular procedure in which a tube is inserted through a major artery in the leg or arm; the tube is guided to the weak spot or break in the vessel to repair damage.
Habash also emphasized risk factors that could lead to stroke.
“The single most important risk factor is high blood pressure,” Habash said. “It is the number-one cause of stroke.”
Other risk factors include tobacco use; diabetes; high cholesterol; physical inactivity and obesity; arterial disease; TIAs; some heart conditions; certain blood disorders; excessive alcohol intake; and illegal drug use.
Preventive measures are: managing blood pressure; eating a healthy diet low in fat, sodium and sugar; being physically active; taking medications as directed; maintaining a healthy weight; decreasing stress; seeking emotional support when needed; and visiting a health-care provider for an annual exam.
“We should take stroke more seriously,” Habash commented. “For example, while about one in 30 women die from breast cancer every year, nearly one in two women die from stroke and heart disease.”
On average, someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds. This can happen at any age and about one-fourth occur in people younger than 65.
“Some people may have TIA symptoms and decide not to see a doctor,” the physician assistant said. “However, if you just ride out the symptoms, a TIA may result in a full-blown stroke within a few months. Some occur within 48 hours.
“The bottom line,” she added, “is to act quickly. Even if it is not a major event, peace of mind is a good thing.”
St. Rose specializes in primary care, prevention and wellness. Services include St. Rose Family Medicine, Convenient Care Walk-in Clinic, Great Bend Internists, imaging, Cardiac Rehab, Special Nursing Services, one-day surgical procedures, Golden Belt Home Health & Hospice and a comprehensive Specialty Clinic. St. Rose is co-owned by Hays Medical Center and Centura Health.