Stroke is an Immediate Emergency

Every minute matters when it comes to treating a stroke. Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death and the leading cause of adult disability in the United States. It is an immediate emergency.

Stroke is also known as a “brain attack.” It usually happens without warning, when an artery in the brain becomes blocked (ischemic stroke) or when an artery bursts (hemorrhagic stroke). In either case, blood and oxygen can no longer reach parts of the brain. Deprived of oxygen, brain cells begin to die within minutes. The longer the condition remains untreated, the more brain cells die, and parts of the body begin to shut down.

NorthBay Medical Center and VacaValley Hospital have spent the past year planning, educating staff and physicians, and conducting mock stroke drills leading up to Phase II of its new Stroke Program, which went live in November 2012.

“Now, in Phase II, patients who come to our Emergency Department experiencing an ischemic stroke can be admitted and treated here rather than automatically being transferred to another hospital,” says Rhonda Martin, assistant vice president, nursing operations. “Responding to a patient experiencing a stroke requires an orchestrated sequence of interventions, which are time-sensitive and must be consistently followed.” Our program ensures we follow the most current standards as published by the American Heart and Stroke Association for assessing, diagnosing and treating stroke victims.”

Emergency treatment depends on the type of stroke you have, according to Julian Gallegos, clinical practice manager/nurse practitioner-stroke program, for NorthBay Healthcare.

For strokes caused by a blood clot, physicians strive to clear the clot and restore blood flow. If the patient gets to an emergency room within three hours of experiencing the first stroke symptoms, a clot-busting drug called TPA (tissue plasminogen activator) can be administered to dissolve the clot.

For strokes caused when an artery bursts in the brain, the treatment is to control the bleeding and reduce pressure in the brain. Patients who have experienced a minor bleed can recover with bed rest and supportive care. A patient with a major bleed may require surgery at a hospital that offers neurosurgery.

Unless the stroke has been very mild, most patients need some type of rehabilitation therapy to regain their strength and recover as much function as possible to resume a normal life.

Myths About Stroke

  • Myth: Stroke is unpreventable.
  • Reality: Stroke is largely preventable.
  • Myth: Stroke cannot be treated.
  • Reality: Stroke requires emergency treatment.
  • Myth: Stroke only strikes the elderly.
  • Reality: Stroke can happen to anyone.
  • Myth: Stroke happens to the heart.
  • Reality: Stroke is a “Brain Attack.”
  • Myth:Stroke recovery only happens for a few months following a stroke.
  • Reality: Stroke recovery continues throughout life.

Warning Signs of Stroke

Do not ignore the warning signs of stroke, even if the symptoms seem to go away. It’s always best to assume that all stroke symptoms require a trip to the Emergency Department for medical assistance. Stroke symptoms include:

  • Difficulty speaking or understanding others.
  • Numbness, weakness or paralysis on one side of the face or body.
  • Blurred, decreased or double vision.
  • Dizziness, trouble walking, or lack of coordination or balance.
  • A rapid-onset, severe headache, or an unusual headache that comes with vomiting, dizziness or altered consciousness.

Here’s a simple tool to help you recognize the signs of stroke:
Remember to act F.A.S.T.

  • Face – Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • Arms – Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech – Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Are the words slurred? Can he or she repeat the sentence correctly?
  • Time – If the person shows any of these symptoms, time is important. Call 911 or get to the hospital fast.

Risk Factors You Can Change

A stroke is a life-changing event that can have long-term consequences for you and your family. While some risk factors you can’t change, including your age, sex, race and family history, there are other risk factors that can be changed to reduce your likelihood of having a stroke. These include:

  • Hypertension – High blood pressure is a strong risk factor for stroke. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can damage the blood vessels in and around the brain, leaving them more vulnerable to hemorrhage.
  • Overweight or Obese – Obesity and excess weight put a strain on the entire circulatory system. Losing excess weight, even 10 pounds, can help lower your blood pressure and thus reduce your risk of stroke.
  • Smoking – If you smoke, your risk of stroke is two to four times greater than if you don’t. Stopping smoking—at any age—can reduce your risk of stroke.
  • Physical inactivity – A sedentary lifestyle can lead to weight gain, hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes, which all increase your risk of stroke.
  • Excess alcohol – Heavy drinking can lead to high blood pressure, which in turn can lead to stroke. However, moderate drinking—one drink a day for women of all ages, and two drinks for men under age 65—may even offer protection from stroke. The benefits are not enough to encourage you to take up drinking if you don’t already.
  • Drug abuse – Drugs such as cocaine, heroin and amphetamines can constrict arteries and lead to stroke.

Don’t Drive, Dial!

If you or someone near you is experiencing a life-threatening emergency, the first thing you should do is to call 9-1-1, says Daman Mott, R.N., Director of Emergency Services and Trauma for NorthBay Healthcare.

It might seem obvious, but sometimes people panic and jump in the car, thinking that driving themselves or their loved one to the hospital is the best decision.

But that could delay life-saving care, Daman notes. It only takes emergency personnel minutes to get to the scene of an emergency, and they can start treatment as soon as they arrive. They also know how to move a patient without causing further injury, and can monitor the patient’s condition on the way to the hospital and be ready to act if it should worsen. But, if you drive yourself, all the time on the road equals precious pre-treatment minutes that are now lost.

The ambulance crew may also choose which hospital to take the patient, depending on the illness or injury. A patient suffering a possible heart attack, for example, would be taken to a hospital with a designated Chest Pain Center.

“In reality, the sooner you can get definitive care to your side, the better it will be,” Damon advises.

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