Stroke is a severely debilitating disease that can permanently change the lives of patients and their families. Everyone knows a family member or a friend whose life has been permanently changed by stroke. Stroke is a very common disease around the world. Every year more than 795,000 people in the United States will suffer a stroke and more than 130,000 will die as a consequence of stroke. In Nebraska, stroke is the fourth leading cause of death and more than 36,000 people live with stroke. Despite these frightening numbers there is hope for stroke patients.
The best way to prevent a stroke is to take care of yourself. More than 90% of strokes are the result of poorly controlled medical conditions. Avoid tobacco, control your weight, watch your diet, exercise and follow up regularly with your primary care physician. Work closely with your doctor to control your high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol or heart disease. Just by reducing your blood pressure by 10 points you can decrease your chance of having a stroke by one-third. Controlling the other risk factors will decrease your chances even further.
Sudden signs of stroke: remember them easily with “FAST”
Stroke can present in many different ways: confusion, severe headache, dizziness, double vision, facial droop, difficulty swallowing, arm or leg numbness or weakness, sudden loss of balance, inability to speak and slurred speech all are symptoms of stroke. One easy way to remember the sudden signs of stroke is by using the F.A.S.T. acronym. F is for facial droop, A is for arm weakness, S is for speech difficulties and T is for time to call 9-1-1. If you think you or a loved one is having a stroke, the best course of action is to call 9-1-1. Patients who call 9-1-1 arrive faster to the nearest hospital capable of treating stroke and have better chances of receiving treatment.
Stroke types and treatments
There are two major types of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic. Ischemic strokes are by far the most common type in the United States and in Nebraska. An ischemic stroke is usually the result of a blockage in a blood vessel, whereas a hemorrhagic stroke is due to a blood vessel rupture. Treatment is different for each type; however rapid treatment is essential in both.
Since 1996, the only FDA approved treatment for acute ischemic stroke has been to administer alteplase. This is a medication that is given to patients with an ischemic stroke who arrive to the Hospital within 4 ½ hours from the onset of symptoms. Patients who receive this drug have a 33% increased chance of being independent or less disabled at three months after their stroke, when compared with people who did not receive the drug. In the last six months there have been significant advances in the treatment of acute ischemic stroke. Five new studies show that patients who suffered a large stroke and were treated with new devices called stent retrievers – within 6 hours of onset, in an experienced stroke center – have a 33% to 71% percent chance of regaining independence or experiencing less disability at three months.
New, advanced treatment options available at Nebraska Medicine
Nebraska Medicine has the capacity to offer these novel treatments to stroke patients who qualify. We are also working to make these crucial advancements in treatment options available to more people in Nebraska and neighboring states by establishing a telestroke network with hospitals throughout the state. Telestroke brings neurology expertise to bedside of community hospitals. Working together, the neurologist and emergency department physician collaborate on the most appropriate treatment for the stroke patient. This program will provide local emergency rooms with 24- hour access to stroke neurology expertise and the advanced treatment options available at Nebraska Medicine.