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May is Stroke Awareness Month

Written by: Diane Park MSN, RN, CNL - Primary Stroke Center Coordinator at Agnesian HealthCare

Approximately 800,000 people in the United States have strokes each year. That’s a lot of people whose lives are affected by stroke. Apart from being a major cause of death and cause of disability, stroke is also an expensive disease and consumes a significant portion of all healthcare expenditures in our nation. Treatment of patients with stroke is a large national investment. With increased awareness we can do our part to decrease the devastating effects of stroke.

Eighty percent of all strokes are preventable; so let’s start with talking about what we can do to prevent strokes from happening in the first place.

  • If you have high blood pressure, lower it. For people over age 18, high blood pressure is a measurement of 140/90.
  • Find out if you have atrial fibrillation (Afib). Afib is an irregular heartbeat that can cause blood to pool in parts of your heart. This blood can form clots that break off and cause a stroke. Your doctor can tell you if you have Afib and help you manage it.
  • If you smoke, stop. Smoking doubles the risk for stroke.
  • If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Heavy drinking can increase your risk for stroke.
  • Lower your cholesterol (the fat-like substance in your blood). Your total cholesterol should be under 200 and you’re LDL or “bad” cholesterol should be under 100.
  • If you are diabetic, follow your doctor’s advice carefully to get your blood sugar level under control. Having diabetes puts you at an increased risk for stroke.
  • Exercise daily. Even a little exercise such a brisk walk, bicycle ride, swimming, or yard work can improve your health and may reduce your stroke risk.
  • Cut down on sodium and fat. Less salt and fact can lower your blood pressure and your risk for stroke.

We all hope that stroke does not occur to any of our family or friends, but last year, St. Agnes Hospital treated 300 people who had strokes or mini strokes, called transient ischemic attacks. Therefore it is important to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of stroke.

  • Sudden onset of numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.
  • Sudden onset of confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
  • Sudden onset of trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden onset of trouble walking, dizziness or loss of balance, nausea, vomiting.
  • Sudden onset of severe headache with no known cause.

If you have any of these symptoms or see someone else having them, call 9-1-1. Last year only 42 percent of the patients experiencing stroke symptoms in the greater Fond du Lac area called 9-1-1 and arrived to the hospital emergency room by ambulance. EMS can notify the Emergency Department physician to alert the Stroke Team to come to the Emergency Department, even before the patient arrives. It is important to note the time when any stroke symptom first appeared. If given within three hours of the first stroke symptom, there is a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved clot buster medication that may reduce long-term disability for the most common type of stroke. Last year in Fond du Lac only 32 percent of patients experiencing stroke symptoms arrived in less than three hours of their first stroke symptom. Of those individuals twenty-two received the clot busting drug.

Mini-strokes (transient ischemic attack) should be considered as much as a medical emergency as a stroke. When a mini-stroke happens, the artery either becomes unblocked after a short period of time or a new path opens up and blood flow goes back to normal. Because of that, the symptoms last for only a minute or two and then disappear. A TIA is a serious warning sign that you might have a stroke in the near future. Do not wait at home to determine if your symptoms will go away-call 9-1-1.

The Primary Stroke Center Program at St. Agnes Hospital has been accredited by the Joint Commission since 2009. Our stroke program has been recognized by the American Stroke Association to meet the highest standards in stroke care and has received its fifth consecutive Gold Plus Award. Our program has also received the Target Stroke award. This distinguished national award is given to hospitals who have consistently achieved ED door to needle times of 60 minutes or less for ischemic stroke patients who receive the clot busting drug by utilizing evidence-based strategies.

It is our mission at St. Agnes Hospital to reduce the incidence and impact of stroke. Taking measures to prevent stroke from occurring is key. When a stroke does occur, it is important to recognize stroke symptoms, and call 9-1-1 immediately. Treatment with the clot busing drug is more effective if given quickly. Every minute counts!

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