Time Loss is Brain Loss

For every minute a stroke is left untreated, up to 2 million brain cells die

By Holly Martin

During a stroke, every second is critical. In fact, the number one mistake people make when experiencing a stroke is waiting too long to receive medical attention, according to one neurological expert.

“Time is brain,” said Dr. Saumya Gill, a neurologist at Novant Health UVA Health System Prince William Medical Center. “If you or your loved one is experiencing stroke-like symptoms, do not wait. Seek attention immediately.”

What exactly is a stroke?

It is critical to recognize the signs and symptoms and seek treatment as soon as possible, because for every minute a stroke is left untreated, up to 2 million brain cells die.

A stroke happens when a blockage or abnormality in an artery causes a lack of blood flow to the brain. When it comes to treating stroke, minutes matter.

“If you are within the time window for administering the clot busting drug known as tPA (tissue plasminogen activator), this can make a world of difference in your recovery,” Gill said. “Very often people think that the symptoms would resolve on their own or after a night’s sleep, and this delays the treatment that we can administer to reverse the deficit.”

Recognize the signs

Gill said that any neurological symptom can be a sign of a stroke, but the most common stroke symptoms are easy to remember if you just think FAST:

F       Facial droop: One side of the face droops or feels numb.

     Arm weakness: Weakness or numbness felt on one side of the body.

S      Speech difficulty: You have trouble expressing or understanding speech.

T       Time to call 911: If you experience any of the symptoms above, call emergency services.

“If you are experiencing sudden onset of facial weakness, arm or leg weakness and numbness, or slurred speech, you may be experiencing a stroke,” Gill said.

She noted that most strokes are not associated with pain, which often leads people to believe they’re fine, and they wait for the symptoms they’re experiencing to pass. However, with each passing minute, brain cells are dying that will never be recovered.

“I encourage folks to remember the acronym FAST and seek care immediately if you or your loved one is experiencing these symptoms,” Gill said. “Getting to an emergency room and being evaluated by a neurologist and emergency medical provider is essential in managing strokes.”

Recognize your risk

Although 80 percent of strokes are preventable, according to the American Stroke Association, Gill said that it’s not accidental that stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States. Many Americans have multiple risk factors that increase their risk of having a stroke in their lifetime.

The following conditions all contribute to your stroke risk:

●       High blood pressure

●       Cigarette smoking

●       Diabetes

●       Heart disease

●       Peripheral artery disease

●       High cholesterol

●       Poor diet

●       Inactivity

●       Obesity

If you have one or several of these conditions, talk to your doctor about how to lower your risk.

Some patients may experience transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), or “warning strokes,” that produce stroke-like symptoms but no lasting damage. A person who’s had one or more TIAs is almost 10 times more likely to have a stroke than someone of the same age and sex who hasn’t. A TIA should be considered a medical emergency and followed up immediately with a health care professional.

For more information, visit NovantHealthUVA.org/stroke.

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