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Every 40 seconds someone has a stroke in our country. That’s about two people who will fall victim by the time you finish reading this. It’s the fifth leading cause of death and accounts for nearly 133,000 deaths every year in the U.S.
May is National Stroke Month and a perfect time to learn the risk factors, prevention measures and what to do if you suspect you’re having a stroke.
Strokes are particularly prevalent in our region due to the fact that Wilson — specifically eastern North Carolina — falls right along what is known as the “stroke belt.” North Carolina is among 11 states in the U.S. that are in the stroke belt; these regions have a higher risk and higher mortality rate compared to the national average.
There are many factors that can increase your risk of having a stroke including diet, exercise, smoking and certain conditions like diabetes, other cardiovascular diseases and high blood pressure or cholesterol, just to name a few. Did you know that 80 percent of strokes are preventable? And high blood pressure is the most important controllable risk.
Take some time this month to really think about what you can do to significantly decrease your chances of having a stroke. Take steps to quit smoking, become more active, eat a healthier diet and manage your blood sugar, for example. Keep track of your blood pressure and talk to your primary care doctor about how to keep your blood pressure under control. All of these things can have an incredible positive long-term effect on your health.
So what do you do if you suspect you or someone else is having a stroke? Act FAST. If you think someone is suffering from a stroke, look for these signs: Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty and Time to call 9-1-1.
Getting help immediately can be the difference in disability and even death.
There are two major types of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic. Ischemic strokes are the most common that occur when a clot forms in a vessel that cuts off the blood supply to the brain. It’s important to get to the nearest hospital as quickly as possible when experiencing a stroke because certain medication treatments such as tPA (tissue plasminogen activator) can only be administered within a three-hour window of opportunity. The new treatment interventions have shown that the sooner circulation is re-established for ischemic stroke the better the outcome. The adage “time is brain” equates to the knowledge that every minute during a stroke causes loss of brain cells and increases disability and the risk for death.
Wilson Medical Center is part of the Duke Telestroke Network, a program which utilizes a computerized interface with the Duke University Hospital neurologist. This program is a part of a national model which has improved the treatment of acute stroke and the outcomes. The neurologist is able to do a face-to-face consultation and examination while you are in the emergency Department. Within minutes the quick bedside evaluation, CT scan and tele-neurologist consultation are completed to determine the most appropriate treatment for your stroke.
Surviving a stroke and reducing disability is considered secondary treatment and primary treatment is prevention. Please begin today to work on reversible risk factors: blood pressure control, diet, exercise and smoking in conjunction with your doctor for atrial fibrillation glucose and cholesterol management.
Franklin Hargett is a board-certified emergency medicine physician practicing at Wilson Medical Center.