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Stroke 101: Definition, Prevention and Treatment

May 30, 2017 | By Lisa Schwenk
Published in: Stroke

Learn how to Spot A Stroke infographic by the American Stroke Association

May is National Stroke Awareness Month. At Augusta Health, stroke care is coordinated through our Stroke Team, a multidisciplinary group that includes physicians, nurses, physical therapists, pharmacists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, health educators and other medical professionals. The team focuses not just on the treatment of those who have experienced a stroke, but also on prevention of stroke through educating the community about symptoms and risk factors.

Robert McMahon, MD, FAAN
Robert McMahon, MD, FAAN

On May 24, 2017, Robert McMahon, MD, FAAN, a neurologist at Augusta Health and member of the Stroke Team, presented a public Lunch and Learn on the prevention and treatment of stroke. This is a summary of the information from that presentation. Dr. McMahon graduated from the University of Virginia School of Medicine and completed his residency at the National Navy Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. He is certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and is a fellow of the American Academy of Neurology.

A stroke is a 'Brain Attack' when an artery supplying blood and glucose to the brain is blocked or damaged. An Ischemic Stroke is caused by a blocked blood vessel in the brain; 80-85% of all strokes are ischemic strokes. A Hemorrhagic Stroke is caused by a ruptured vessel in the brain.

Whether a stroke is Ischemic or Hemorrhagic, the blood flow to the brain is diminished, and without needed glucose and oxygen supplied by the blood, the cells in the brain are damaged. Damage to the brain then affects the part of the body that is controlled by that area of the brain.

The symptoms of a stroke may be sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg—especially on one side of the body; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding; sudden trouble with walking, dizziness, balance or coordination; or a sudden, severe headache with no cause.

When you or someone you know experiences any symptoms of stroke, call 911 immediately.

In the United States, there are 795,000 strokes each year—about one every 45 seconds. About one in four people die within one year of the first stroke. The good news is that the mortality from strokes is declining because of improved prevention. Many risk factors can be controlled: high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, tobacco use, physical inactivity obesity, excessive alcohol use and recreational drug use are all risk factors that can be modified or reduced.

So what can be done to reduce these risks? It's basically changing lifestyle. Even modifying one unhealthy behavior will reduce the risk of stroke, but people who follow these five lifestyle factors have an 80% lower risk of stroke than those that don't:

  • Not smoking!
  • Following a Healthy Diet—the DASH Diet and a Mediterranean Diet are both diets that are rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish and poultry protein and extra virgin olive oil and less dairy fat, sugar sweetened foods, red meats, added salt and fat.
  • Exercising regularly—even walking counts, it doesn't have to be training for a marathon.
  • Maintaining an optimal body weight.
  • Consuming alcohol in moderate amounts.

For those who do have a stroke, it is a medical emergency; call 911 immediately for transport to the nearest Emergency Department. There are possible important interventions that, if administered early in the development of a stroke, can save brain tissue, function and survival. These include administering tPA, the clot busting drug, but also interventions to stop bleeding in the case of a hemorrhagic stroke, controlling blood pressure and blood sugar and even managing fever.

After a stroke, professionals like Augusta Health's Stroke Team will evaluate and manage all treatments, including the emergency treatments and those related to rehabilitation and education. They will also help identify and manage the risk factors.

Knowing how to manage risk factors and prevent strokes, as well as knowing the symptoms of stroke and seeking immediate medical attention if they do occur, are all important awareness issues for people of every age.