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Identify a Stroke by Acting FAST

October 23, 2013

Stroke Experts Talk About Stroke and its Risk Factors

When you’re not feeling well, it’s natural to think that taking a nap will fix the problem. However, when it comes to something serious like stroke, a nap won’t help. In fact, it might hurt—because not recognizing a stroke in time can lead to deadly results.

Stroke’s telltale signs—such as weakness on one side, difficulty speaking, blurred vision and facial drooping—often are misunderstood by those unfamiliar with stroke, which can lead to a delay in seeking emergency medical treatment.

 

Improving stroke outcomes through knowledge

“Stroke is a silent disease that typically comes on suddenly, and many people may not readily recognize the symptoms,” says Dr. Ash Jain, M.D., medical director of Washington Hospital’s Stroke Program.
Next Tuesday, Nov. 5, Dr. Jain and Doug Van Houten, R.N., clinical coordinator of the Stroke Program, will present a free seminar aimed at educating community members about stroke and what puts you at risk.

“Risk factors for stroke—such as hypertension and diabetes—develop over the course of years, even decades, increasing the likelihood of stroke,” Dr. Jain says. “Without being aware of the risk factors for stroke, it’s easy to be taken by surprise.”

By taking steps to understand stroke and its risk factors, community members can talk to their doctor to better assess their risk level and then take steps to mitigate their chance of suffering from stroke.

“Preventing stroke by managing risk factors is ideal, but if a stroke does occur, our program works to minimize damage and prevent any further strokes through risk factor management and patient education,” Dr. Jain says.

“Community members can help us to help them and improve our community stroke outcomes. As much as we can try to provide aggressive care once stroke happens, the benefit is not as much as it is by controlling the risk factors.”

“The important risk factors we need to pay attention to are diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, previous strokes, and irregular heartbeat, also known as atrial fibrillation.”

Dr. Jain adds that knowing these risk factors and discussing their management with your doctors will better enable your health care team to control and prevent diseases like stroke and heart attack, two major killers.

“I cannot express enough to community members how important it is to learn about stroke so that they can take the appropriate steps to both recognize it and understand the risk factors involved.”

Are you ready to act FAST if stroke happens?

Being able to recognize stroke is everyone’s responsibility, according to Doug Van Houten, R.N. To illustrate this point, he cites a study that examined who is most likely to call 9-1-1 in the event of a stroke—patients themselves or their family members.

The results? Researchers found that stroke victims only called emergency services in one out of every 600 cases. In other words, in almost all cases, it will be a family member who recognizes stroke and calls 9-1-1.

Going a step further, if you suspect a loved one is potentially suffering from a stroke, language is the key, Van Houten says.

“It’s interesting—in almost any assessment tool you use to identify stroke, speech and language are part of it because the left side of the brain has a huge section dedicated to language processes,” he explains. “Almost any motor deficit due to stroke will lead to slurred speech, so speech problems will be a symptom in most strokes.”
In these cases, the speech might be slurred or unclear because the mouth is not working perfectly to form words clearly.  In others, the person’s ability to use words in conversation is impacted.

“This deficit is called ‘aphasia,’” Van Houten says. “An acute stroke patient with aphasia knows what he or she wants to say, but is unable to do it normally.  Sometimes the aphasic person cannot come up with simple and normal words; other times there is no speech at all.”

If you notice a change in a family member’s speech patterns, Van Houten recommends remembering the pneumonic FAST, which stands for:

  • Facial Weakness
  • Arm Weakness
  • Speech Impairment
  • Time (Stroke is an emergency that requires calling 9-1-1.)

“Family members are the ones who will pick up subtle changes in speech and language the quickest,” he points out. “What they need to be able to do is to act on this detection and to do it FAST!”

Learn More

To learn more about stroke and how to identify it and also learn about risk factors, attend the free community education seminar next Tuesday, Nov. 5, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, (Washington West building) located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.

To register, visit www.whhs.com or call (800) 963-7070.

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