Don't Fool Around with Stroke Symptoms

Strokes can cause death or life-changing injuries. The sad thing is that strokes can sometimes be prevented if people would pay attention to the warning signs and get to a hospital right away. We would like to give you a little bit of information about strokes that may help you or a family member avoid death or serious injury.

First of all, what is a “stroke”? A stroke is a death of brain tissue due to lack of blood supply. As you probably know, the brain, like all other vital organs in the body, needs oxygen to stay alive. Some organs can survive longer when oxygen supply is cut off, but unfortunately, the brain is very sensitive to loss of oxygen supply even for very short periods of time. A stroke usually occurs when there is a blockage in an artery that prevents blood from delivering oxygen “down stream” from the clot. This is a called an embolic or ischemic stroke. Another type of stroke, called a hemorrhagic stroke,” occurs when there is bleeding in the brain which causes compression of blood vessels and interruption in blood supply.

Although sometimes a stroke can occur suddenly with no warning signs, many times thereare signals that a patient is at risk for a stroke in the near future. Those warning signs include things like numbness in the face or arm, slurred speech, loss of balance, temporary facial paralysis, etc. These warning signs can be temporary or “transient,” i.e., they may last for several minutes or hours and then go away. These events are referred to as “transient ischemic attacks” or TIAs. In simple terms, there is a temporary disruption of blood supply to the brain which causes the symptoms but then blood flow is restored and the symptoms disappear.

Whenever symptoms of a TIA occur, it is critical that the patient not disregard them as just some minor thing. Instead, you should immediately go to the emergency room, preferably at a major hospital that is equipped to handle these sorts of problems. TIAs often are the precursor to a full blown stroke, and that is why it is important to get to the hospital as soon as possible.

In the emergency room, the patient will be assessed by an emergency room physician and maybe a specialist such as a neurologist. Depending on whether the symptoms are getting worse or going away, and depending on how soon the patient arrives at the hospital after the symptoms first started, they may be given medications to prevent a stroke from occurring. That medication could include blood thinning drugs such as Heparin or, in certain cases, the patient may qualify to receive more aggressive treatment such as the IV administration of so-called “clot-busting” drugs. Whether any of this treatment can be used, and how effective it will be, often depends on how soon the patient came to the ER because there is only a certain “window of opportunity” in which these drugs can be used, particularly the clot busters.

As with any drugs, there are risks of side effects, primarily bleeding, that can occur. In any given situation, the doctor would talk to the patient about the benefits of perhaps preventing a stroke versus the risk of causing serious bleeding.

If the stroke signs are caused by bleeding rather than a clot, the patient may need surgery to drain or evacuate the blood in the brain.

There is no guarantee that treatment will prevent a stroke but still the best advice is do not ever ignore temporary numbness or slurred speech or other signs of a TIA; make arrangements to get to the emergency room immediately. It may just save your life or prevent a devastating injury from a stroke.