Nearly 800,000 Americans suffer strokes each year, making them one of the leading causes of death and disability, according to the American Stroke Association (ASA). May is Stroke Awareness Month, with an emphasis on helping people recognize the symptoms of a stroke and know what to do if they or someone around them exhibits such symptoms.
“A stroke happens when blood flow to the brain is interrupted,” said Thomas Mattio, M.D. Ph.D., a neurologist with Neuroscience Group and medical director of the ThedaCare Stroke Program. “That can happen because of a blood clot, a blocked artery or a brain bleed. Brain cells begin to die almost immediately when deprived of blood flow, which is why time is of the essence in treating a stroke patient.”
BE FAST is the acronym used to help people recognize the symptoms of a stroke:
- B – Balance: Sudden loss of balance or coordination
- E – Eyes: Sudden blurred, double or loss of vision
- F – Face: Drooping or numbness of the face
- A – Arms: Weakness or numbness in arms or legs, on one side of the body
- S – Speech: Slurred speech, unable to speak or difficult to understand
- T – Time: If you see any of these signs, call 911 right away
If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms, it is a critical to get care immediately. Dr. Mattio stressed it’s important to call 911 as opposed to driving the patient to the hospital.
“Emergency medical technicians can interact with hospital personnel and begin assessment and treatment while on the way to the hospital,” he said. “The quicker treatment begins, it can help prevent permanent brain damage, and possibly lead to better outcomes for the patient.”
For strokes, there are some risk factors that cannot be changed. For example, a person cannot reverse the years or change family history, but there are many other stroke risk factors that someone can control.
These factors put people at a greater risk of having a stroke:
- Being overweight
- Drinking a lot of alcohol
- Having high blood pressure
- Having conditions such as diabetes or atrial fibrillation
“One of the top myths about strokes is that you can’t do anything to stop them,” he said. “It is clear we all can do things to help reduce our likelihood of having a stroke – that is, lose weight, quit smoking, drink less alcohol, exercise regularly and control our blood pressure.”
The Stroke Recovery Foundation (SRF) estimates that 80% of strokes are preventable if lifestyle changes are made. In addition to Dr. Mattio’s suggestions, the SRF recommends:
- Have an annual physical and discuss all health concerns with your provider
- Consider carotid artery screening
- Keep diabetes under control
- Attend to atrial fibrillation
Dr. Mattio noted another myth is that only elderly people suffer strokes. The ASA reports that 30% of those suffering strokes are younger than age 65.
“Unfortunately, younger people tend to dismiss the idea that their condition could be a stroke, which can delay treatment and cause greater brain damage,” he said.
Dr. Mattio also said the tendency to have a stroke can run in families.
“If your parents, siblings or other close relatives have suffered strokes, you may be at a greater risk,” he said. “React proactively if you have stroke symptoms. Don’t hesitate to seek treatment. And remember, knowledge is power.”
More than 40% of stroke patients may experience mini-strokes up to a week before they have a major stroke.
“Many patients experience transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), or mini strokes, before a major stroke,” explained Dr. Mattio. “If you experience brief episodes of slurred speech, sudden weakness in an arm or leg or facial drooping, contact your provider as soon as possible. Please don’t ignore those symptoms.”
Dr. Mattio noted that there are effective treatments for strokes, including drugs that can dissolve clots and surgical procedures that can remove blockages or repair hemorrhagic bleeding in the brain.
“These procedures can reduce the effect of strokes and lower the level of disability a person might experience,” he said. “Time is of the essence. We want to be treating a stroke patient as quickly as possible. That’s why it’s so important to call 911 and get immediate medical intervention.”
All seven ThedaCare hospitals have received stroke care accreditation from DNV GL – Healthcare, including recertification for ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah as a Comprehensive Stroke Center.
A Comprehensive Stroke Center accreditation is highest level of competence for treatment of serious stroke events. The Comprehensive Stroke Center at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah has partnerships with first responders and rural hospitals, and a 24-hour acute care to provide the best care. The stroke team also provides virtual consultation to patients at ThedaCare Critical Access Hospitals to determine the correct action of care that is needed.
In addition to ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah’s Comprehensive Stroke Center, ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Appleton has also been accredited as a Primary Stroke Center. According to DNV GL – Healthcare, this certification is earned by hospitals which has the necessary staffing, infrastructure and programs to stabilize and treat most emergent stroke patients.
ThedaCare Critical Access hospitals, including ThedaCare Medical Center-Berlin, ThedaCare Medical Center-New London, ThedaCare Medical Center-Shawano, ThedaCare Medical Center-Waupaca and ThedaCare Medical Center-Wild Rose, have all earned Acute Stroke Ready certifications also from DNV GL – Healthcare. This certification allows smaller and rural hospitals to demonstrate excellence by complying with standards of care for the initial treatment of stroke patients, when rapid action and proper medications can save lives and limit the long-term disabling effects of strokes.
“With strokes, the quicker a person gets to a hospital, the more treatment options we have available to us, potentially leading to better outcomes,” said Dr. Mattio. “It is critical that our community members have access to certified stroke care, and higher levels of care if necessary.”
For more information about strokes and care options available, please visit: thedacare.org/services/neurology-stroke/.
For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health and well-being of the communities it serves in Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 17 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including eight hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their unique, best lives. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts about a patient’s care. ThedaCare is proud to partner with Children’s Wisconsin and Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network to enhance convenient access to the most advanced levels of specialty care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.
For more information, visit thedacare.org or follow ThedaCare on social media. Members of the media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public and Media Relations Consultant at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.