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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Stroke: Overview

When Stroke Strikes

The phrase “Timing is everything” is never more true than when stroke strikes. From the moment symptoms begin the clock is ticking, and the more quickly a stroke victim receives the proper treatment, the more likely he or she is to recover.

First Signs
Recognizing the signs of stroke is step one. You should suspect stroke whenever any of the following symptoms appear:
• sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side
• sudden dizziness, confusion, loss of balance
• sudden blurred vision or loss of vision
• sudden, severe headache

The presence of any of these symptoms should prompt an immediate call to 911. If possible, request transport to West Jefferson Medical Center, where the West Jefferson Neurovascular and Acute Stroke Unit is dedicated to the treatment of stroke. Physicians and staff are trained in diagnosing stroke.

The Stroke Team
The West Jefferson “Stroke Team” includes all medical personnel involved in treating stroke patients. Their work starts as soon as they are called for help. EMTs are immediately dispatched. They are trained to recognize the symptoms of stroke and can let hospital personnel know a potential stroke victim is on the way. Once a patient is brought into the Emergency Room, nurses can assess the patient and notify the appropriate physicians.

Doctors must then examine the patient to confirm the diagnosis of stroke and identify which type of stroke it is, the location, and the extent of brain damage. Common tests to diagnose stroke include an examination of the blood vessels in the eye and the carotid arteries in the neck, as well as CT or MRI scans.

It is essential for physicians to decide whether a patient has had an ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke. People who are suffering a ischemic strokes – which occur when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood to the brain – must be given a “clot-busting” drug such as tPA (tissue plasminogen activator) within the first three hours of the onset of symptoms.

Patients whose strokes are hemorrhagic, in which bleeding occurs in the brain, must not receive clot-busters. Their treatment may include emergency surgery to drain blood and clip a ruptured artery or aneurysm. The Neurosurgeons of the LSU Department of Neurosurgery, who work with the West Jefferson Stroke Unit, are skilled at evaluating patients to make sure the correct treatment is carried out. And because they are constantly taking part in research studies, they know the latest and most effective treatments to help their patients.

Some people will need surgery, such as a carotid endarterectomy to remove plaque from the large carotid arteries, emergency brain surgery to remove a blood clot in the brain, or to stop the bleeding from a ruptured aneurysm.

A big part of the recovery process is occupational and physical rehabilitation. Specialists at the Stroke Unit work with patients as they recover, helping them cope with problems they may have speaking or walking. They also work with a patient’s family. Education also comes into the picture. Patients and their families are taught how to prevent future strokes through diet, exercise and other lifestyle modifications.

Each year about 750,000 people in the U.S. have a stroke. From the moment the first symptom appears to the time a stroke patient walks out of the hospital, a myriad of specialists are busy treating the physical, emotional and social repercussions of the stroke. When they all work together, the chances of a successful outcome are greatly increased. The hope is that stroke patients can recapture the life they had before stroke entered the picture, temporarily robbing them of the health and mobility we all value.

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