Stroke is the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States. Each year an estimated 795,000 people in this country experience a stroke.* That's approximately the equivalent of every man, woman and child living in Anaheim and Long Beach combined. But did you know that stroke is also the No. 1 cause of adult disability?
Even more surprising, stroke is no longer a disease only of the elderly. Nearly 20 percent of strokes occur in people younger than age 55, and over the past decade, the average age at stroke occurrence has dropped from 71 to 69.
"The good news," says Patrick D. Lyden, MD, chair of Neurology and director of the Stroke Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, "is that quickly recognizing the signs of stroke and seeking immediate medical care from stroke specialists can minimize the effects of the disease or even save a life. And just as important as knowing the symptoms is the knowledge that regardless of an individual's age, those symptoms need to be treated as the emergency that they are."
If you see any one of these "Five Sudden, Severe Symptoms," call 911 -- regardless of the victim's age.
• Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg on one side of the body.
• Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
• Sudden trouble seeing on one side.
• Sudden, severe difficulty walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
• Sudden, severe headache with no known cause.
It is important to emphasize the words "sudden" and "severe" and the number "one." Any of these symptoms can occur in a mild, fleeting way and not be worrisome, but if any one of them comes on suddenly and is quite severe, it could signal the onset of a stroke, which increasingly is described as a "brain attack," because like a heart attack, a stroke requires immediate action to improve the odds against disability and death.
Time is brain
The National Stroke Association estimates that two-thirds of stroke survivors have some disability.
"Clot-busting" drugs make it possible in some cases to stop a stroke in progress and even reverse damage. But the crucial element is time. If given within three hours of onset, the drugs improve outcomes by about 30 percent.
Not every hospital or stroke center has the facilities, staff or resources to provide complete care for every stroke patient, but many hospitals and health authorities are collaborating to establish regional stroke-treatment networks to be sure that even the most complex cases are rapidly transferred to a center with the needed level of care.
Still, no amount of readiness can make a difference unless someone recognizes the symptoms and calls 911.
*Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
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