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Know the warning signs of a stroke

The statistics are scary. Every 40 seconds, somebody in the United States has a stroke. About 800,000 strokes occur every year. And, stroke is the number one cause of disability. “Stroke is a sudden interruption of blood supply to the brain, causing brain cells to die,” says Randy Martin, M.D., cardiologist with Piedmont Heart Institute.

There are two types of stroke. The more common is ischemic stroke, which occurs when a blood clot blocks blood flow to part of the brain. Ischemic strokes account for approximately 85 percent of all stroke cases. The other type, a hemorrhagic stroke, occurs when a blood vessel ruptures in the brain and blood accumulates, compressing the surrounding brain tissue.

“It’s very important to know which type  of stroke you’re having,” Dr. Martin says. “That’s why it’s critical to get help immediately. Call 911 and get to a hospital or Emergency Department.” When brain cells die during a stroke, functions controlled by that area of the brain are damaged. Some of these functions include speech, movement and memory. How a patient is affected depends on where the  stroke occurs in the brain and how much of the brain is damaged.

A person who experiences a minor stroke may experience less serious problems, such as weakness of an arm or leg. Major strokes may result in paralysis on one side of the body or loss of the ability to speak. Some people recover completely from strokes, while others experience long-term disability. “Oftentimes, the person having the stroke is confused, and they don’t even know they’re having it. So you – their loved one, their significant other or somebody who’s around someone having a stroke – need  to know the warning signs,” he says.

Here’s an easy way to remember warning signs. Think of the word stroke and its first three letters, STR.

S: Ask the person to smile. If their smile is crooked or they are unable to smile, that’s a warning sign.

T: Ask him or her to talk. If they can’t or they’re very confused, that’s a warning sign.

R: Ask him or her to raise both hands. If they have weakness in one arm, they won’t be able to do so.

 It is crucial to get the patient to the hospital right away, because doctors need to diagnose what type of stroke the patient is having. “If it’s the common ischemic stroke, there are clot-busting drugs and certain devices that can minimize or even cancel the effects of a stroke,” Dr. Martin says. Remember the acronym STR and if you believe someone is having a stroke, call 911 and get them to the hospital as soon as possible. For more information on stroke, visit Piedmont Stroke Services.

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