By Carl Vaagenes, CEO of Alomere Health

In today’s article, I will be addressing the signs and symptoms of a stroke and the importance of getting immediate emergency medical treatment.

So, what is a stroke? A stroke is a sudden interruption in the blood supply of the brain. Most strokes are caused by an abrupt blockage of arteries leading to the brain. Other strokes are caused by bleeding into brain tissue when a blood vessel bursts. According to the CDC, strokes kill approximately 140,000 Americans each year which equates to 1 out of every 20 deaths. To put that into perspective, someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds, and every 4 minutes someone dies as a result of stroke. Additionally, stroke is a leading cause of serious long-term disability and reduces mobility in more than half of stroke survivors age 65 and over. Stroke prevalence is also expected to rise 21 percent by 2030. Staggering and sobering statistics.

About 90 percent of stroke risk is due to modifiable risk factors; 74 percent is due to behavioral risk factors. So who is most at high risk for having a stroke? Per the CDC, people with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smokers, obesity, and diabetes are leading causes of stroke. One in three U.S. adults has at least one of these conditions or habits. Stroke risk increases with age, but strokes can — and do — occur at any age. In 2009, 34 percent of people hospitalized for stroke were less than 65 years old.

There are a number of signs of stroke you can be aware of.

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

If you think someone may be having a stroke, remember the acronym B.E.F.A.S.T.:

  • B — Balance: Sudden loss of balance, staggering gait, severe vertigo.
  • E — Eyes: Sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes, onset of double vision.
  • F — Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • A — Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • S — Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is the speech slurred or strange?
  • T — Time: If you see any of these signs, call 9-1-1 right away.

Alomere Health has been designated as an “Acute Stroke-Ready Hospital” by the Minnesota Department of Health. This designation certifies that Alomere Health is equipped to evaluate, stabilize and provide life-saving emergency care to patients with acute stroke symptoms. If you or someone you know is showing signs of having a stroke, it is very important to seek immediate emergency medical attention.

When signs and symptoms are detected early, fast treatment of tPA (Tissue Plasminogen Activator) is administered and works by preventing enlargement of blood clots that interrupt blood flow to the brain. The benefits of tPA in patients with acute ischemic stroke are time-dependent, and guidelines recommend a door-to-needle time of 60 minutes or less. However, studies have found that less than 30 percent of U.S. patients are treated within this window. The anecdotal stories of patients waiting hours, and in some cases days, to receive lifesaving treatment from emergency medicine providers are all too common throughout the state, and can be catastrophic.

Using B.E.F.A.S.T. can help stroke patients get the treatments they desperately need. The stroke treatments that work best and minimize the potential for permanent brain damage are available only if the stroke is recognized and diagnosed within three hours of the first symptoms. Stroke patients may not be eligible for these treatments if they don’t arrive at the hospital in time.

If you have questions or would like additional information, please feel free to contact Lori Rosch, RN, Director of Emergency Services, Trauma and Stroke Coordinator, at (320) 762-6000 at Alomere Health.

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Carl Vaagenes is the CEO of Alomere Health in Alexandria. In the Know is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.