A stroke can lead to brain damage or even death, but with fast action, the effects of a stroke can be greatly reduced.
It's imperative to understand and recognize the symptoms of a stroke, because once those symptoms begin, every minute counts. The American Heart Association uses the acronym FAST: Face drooping, Arm weakness (or the inability to raise arms fully), Slurred speech (or the inability to understand or produce speech) and Time, which reminds people that if symptoms are present, call 911 immediately.
With stroke, time saved is brain saved.
Physicians advise against driving yourself or driving someone having a stroke to the emergency department. Calling 911 is better, because in most cases, trained medical teams can begin care sooner. Also, the emergency medical crew can radio ahead to discuss the patient's care with emergency department staff.
Once someone who has shown signs of stroke is in the care of medical professionals, usually a hospital's acute code stroke team, the goal is to complete treatment within 60 minutes.
The first step in that response plan is for the patient to have a CT scan within 15 minutes of arrival. This helps tell the doctors what part of the brain is affected and show whether there is any bleeding. Once the CT scan is reviewed, the team will discuss the patient's medical history to assess the risks and benefits of administering tissue plasminogen activator, the "clot-busting drug." It's also known as tPA.
tPA should be administered to most stroke patients within three hours, but some people can benefit from the drug as late as 41/2 hours after the initial stroke. However, with this drug, every minute matters. Researchers have discovered that with each 15-minute interval of delayed treatment, brain injury increases. For example, treatment at 45 minutes from the onset of stroke is significantly better than treatment within 60 minutes.
In some stroke patients — approximately 15 percent to 20 percent — a stent-retriever endovascular procedure can be done to remove the clot from the artery. This minimally invasive procedure is conducted through the femoral artery and is performed in the hospital's heart catheterization lab.
Even if a patient has stroke symptoms that resolve themselves, that person should seek immediate care, because those symptoms are a warning sign. In that case, the patient is at risk for a second stroke. Once a problem is identified, medical treatment can be started to prevent a devastating stoke.
Acting FAST is the key to minimizing the damage of a stroke. Minute by minute, a blocked artery is depriving blood flow and oxygen to the brain, causing death to brain tissue. Act FAST to save the brain and maintain good health.