Stroke Month: In case of stroke, act F-A-S-T

By Kristy Bleizeffer May 2, 2014

Dr. David B. Wheeler is director of WMC's Primary Stroke Center.

Dr. David B. Wheeler is director of WMC's Primary Stroke Center.

When it comes to stroke, time is of the essence. The longer a patient waits to seek treatment, the more severe the symptoms likely will be. “Treatment is available, but only if the treatment is started in time,” said neurologist Dr. David B. Wheeler, medical director of Wyoming Medical Center’s Primary Stroke Center.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month – and for good reason. Stroke is the fourth-leading cause of death and the leading cause of long-term disability in the United States. One in every three strokes occur in people younger than 65.

Wyoming Medical Center is better equipped to save brain function than anywhere else in the state. Our Primary Stroke Center is Wyoming’s only center certified by the Joint Commission, and we are recipients of the Gold Plus – Target: Stroke award as part of the American Heart Association’s 2013 Get With the Guidelines: Stroke Campaign.  But we can only save lives and improve patient outcomes when patients come to us in time.

What are the warning signs of stroke?

A stroke is caused by sudden interruption of the blood supply to part of the brain. The most common type is an ischemic stroke in which a clot blocks arteries leading to or in the brain, Wheeler said. In a hemorrhagic stroke, a blood vessel bursts and bleeds into the brain. Warning signs include the sudden onset of one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the boy
  • Confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Severe headache with no known cause

 

What does act F.A.S.T. mean?

FAST is a memory guide for recognizing stroke in someone you are with.

F – Face: Ask the person to smile. Look to see if one side droops or the face is not symmetrical.

A – Arms: Have the person raise both arms in front of them at shoulder height. Watch to see if one arm drops lower than the other.

S – Speech: Ask the person a question or to repeat a phrase back to you. Listen for slurred or garbled speech or signs the person doesn’t understand what you have asked of them.

T – Time: If any of the three signs is present, time is of the essence. Call 911 immediately. Do not attempt to drive to the hospital yourself. Emergency medical responders will begin tests on the way to the hospital.

“Get the patient to the emergency room right away, because there are treatments that can stop stroke in its tracks,” Wheeler said.

Why is time so important?

The longer blood flow is restricted, the greater the chance for damage to the brain. “If we can open up or get rid of that clot, reestablish blood flow before permanent damage occurs, sometimes the stroke will go away,” Wheeler said.

The clot buster tPA can dissolve the clot, but there is only a 3- to 4 ½-hour window to administer the drug after the onset of symptoms. After that time window, tPA can cause more harm than good, Wheeler said.

Is stroke preventable?

“The key to all health is to live a healthy lifestyle by eating well and exercising regularly. Work with your doctor to manage your blood pressure and cholesterol. Most importantly, if you smoke cigarettes, quit today,” Wheeler said.

David Wheeler M.D., Ph.D, F.A.A.N.

Dr. David B. Wheeler is board certified in neurology and clinical neurophysiology. He is medical director of Wyoming Medical Center’s Primary Stroke Center and is founder of our Level III Epilepsy Center. He is the 2010 Wyoming Medical Center Physician of the Year. He serves on the boards of Wyoming Dementia Care and the Wyoming Medical Society. Dr. Wheeler is married and has two children.

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