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Think FAST

Know the Symptoms of Stroke

By Amy Morgan

 

May is national Stroke Awareness Month. Did you know stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the American Stroke Association?

 

Strokes are caused when a blood vessel that carries oxygen to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts. The part of the brain that doesn’t get the blood it needs begins to die due to lack of oxygen. Treatments are available to halt or lesson the effects, but they must be started within the first few hours. Every second counts!

Matthew Cross, M.D. has spent 16 years as an Emergency Physician, the last five at Physicians Premier, a free-standing emergency room located west of Highway 281 on Highway 46 near the HEB Plus. He emphasizes it’s important to know the symptoms of a stroke so you can take quick action.

  • 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.

 

The American Stroke Association coined the acronym FAST:

  • 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.

Get things checked out as soon as you notice symptoms, Dr. Cross says. “If you wait because you ‘think it’s nothing,’ you’ll be out of the treatment window,” he cautions. Don’t try to drive yourself – call an ambulance or a friend to take you to a trained emergency medicine physician who is practiced in deciphering the signs of stroke and can administer medicine to dissolve the clot or reduce blood pressure immediately.

The physician will be able to conduct a physical exam, take vital signs and blood work, and order EKG, MRI and CT scans (all available on-site at Physicians Premier) to diagnose if someone is indeed having a stroke or if something else, like a migraine, is just mimicking the symptoms.

He remembers a patient who had lost part of their peripheral vision, a relatively mild symptom with a variety of causes. The CT scan was normal, but an MRI showed the patient had suffered a stroke caused by a blood clot. Dr. Cross started the patient on a blood thinner, was able to reverse the damage, and the patient experienced a complete recovery.

“Diagnosing a stroke is not something you can do for yourself, nor can it be accomplished over the phone or via telemedicine,” he emphasized. Another category of stroke is TIA – or as Dr. Cross says, “a stroke that goes away” But you don’t know if it’s going to go away until it does. And then, you don’t know what caused it. “Is there a clot somewhere or a vascular spasm that decreased blood flow? Don’t put off or dismiss any stroke – especially a TIA,” he warns. “You want to prevent the big stroke that may be lurking.”

As with most health concerns, prevention is key. Dr. Cross suggests lowering the risk factors you can control. Don’t smoke, eat a balanced diet, watch your sugar, and maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

When it comes to stroke: Think FAST!

Physicians Premier allows patients to access the care they need when they need it, saving time, money, alleviating concern and allowing for a healthier patient and community. Find them at MDpremier.com.

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