“When it comes to a stroke, time is brain,” explains Dr. Amparo Gutierrez, a neurologist at Touro Infirmary. Stroke is an emergency and should be treated as such.
The greatest chance for recovery from stroke occurs when emergency treatment is started immediately. Stroke, also called “brain attack,” occurs when blood flow to the brain is disrupted, which is caused either by a blood clot blockage to one of the vital blood vessels in the brain (ischemic stroke), or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, spilling blood into surrounding tissues (hemorrhagic stroke).
Who is at Risk?
“Stroke, like heart attack, is under-recognized in women,” says Dr. Gutierrez, “but stroke is the No. 3 cause of death in women and the No. 4 cause of death in men.” It is also a primary cause of long-term disability among survivors. There are certain factors that put you at a greater risk for stroke, which are beyond your control, including age, heredity, race, gender and history of prior stroke or heart attack. About 55,000 more women than men have a stroke each year. The risk is greatest among minority racial groups, including African Americans and Hispanics.
“You have a very small window following a stroke to realize that this is an emergency, and you need to call 911,” explains Dr. Gutierrez. “So think F.A.S.T. — Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty and Time. You should never wait more than five minutes to call.”
Symptoms of a stroke include:
1. Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
2. Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
3. Sudden trouble seeing, or blurred vision in one or both eyes
4. Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
5. Sudden severe headache with no known cause
Even if you’re not experiencing all of the symptoms, you could be having a stroke. Dr. Gutierrez says it’s best not to hesitate, because “no symptom is trivial.” Also, remember to check the time, as the doctors will need to know when your symptoms first occurred.
Lowering Your Risk
One in five women has a stroke in her life, though there are many risk factors that can be changed, treated or controlled, such as high blood pressure, which is the leading cause of stroke and most important “controllable” risk factor. Smoking also increases your risk for stroke, as does diabetes, peripheral arterial disease, high cholesterol, poor diet, and physical inactivity or obesity. Risk also increases for women who are pregnant, or taking birth control or hormone replacement therapy, as well as for those with a history of migraines who also smoke.
Even if you fit several of the risk factors, Dr. Gutierrez says you can still be proactive. “Be aware; talk to your doctor about your risk factors; and control what you can. If you’re a smoker, quit! Eat right and exercise regularly. Most importantly, learn how to spot the signs of a stroke.”
Life After Stroke
Each person’s recovery after stroke is unique, because a stroke can affect different people in different ways and to different degrees. In order to give a patient the best possible opportunity for recovering skills and abilities, rehabilitation efforts should begin as soon as possible following a stroke.
“At Touro, every patient undergoes individual assessments for rehab,” Dr. Gutierrez explains. “We are a comprehensive stroke hospital, so we are able to provide treatment from the moment a stroke victim walks through the doors all the way through rehabilitation and counseling.”
At Touro’s Neurological Rehabilitation Center, patients who have suffered a stroke often receive a specialized recovery program that includes physical, occupational and speech therapy. Stroke rehabilitation can begin while an individual is still admitted in the hospital, and, in some cases, as soon as they are discharged and living back at home or in an assisted living center.