Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Many of us know the phrase, “Time is muscle,” referring to the need to treat heart attack patients and restore blood flow to the heart muscle as soon as possible. But have you heard the phrase, “Time is brain,” which refers to the urgency of medical attention for strokes? Since the late 1990s, doctors have been able to treat patients who experience strokes due to blood clots (ischemic stroke) with the clot-dissolving drug t-PA, which can limit and even reverse damage to the brain. But the window that t-PA can be given is only 4½ hours after onset of stroke symptoms. And even within that window, the faster stroke patients receive the drug, the better they are likely to fare, according to growing medical research. “We know that the best way to treat strokes is by treating them as quickly as possible,” says Trident Health neurologist Dr. Julio Rentas. “The patient should be in the emergency room as quickly as possible.” Dr. Rentas will discuss this need for speed during the Healthy Conversations talk “Act F.A.S.T. for Stroke Prevention,” on Friday, May, 2, from noon to 1 p.m., at Trident Medical Center, Café A. (Lunch will be provided. Call 843-797-FIND to register.) The talk is being held in May as part of National Stroke Awareness Month. You can remember what to look for and do with the following “Act F.A.S.T.” checklist promoted by Trident Health and the American Stroke Association: Face Drooping: Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Arm Weakness: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one drift downward? Speech difficulty: Is speech slurred or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence and note if it's repeated correctly. Time to call 9-1-1 if the person shows any of these symptoms, even if they go away. Yet, someone may be having a stroke without showing those specific signs. “There are so many other symptoms we need to be aware of,” Dr. Rentas says. These include: Sudden numbness or weakness of the leg, arm or face. Sudden confusion or trouble understanding Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination Sudden severe headache with no known cause It's best to call 9-1-1 when someone has stroke symptoms because EMS can do an evaluation in the field and get the patient to a facility that can start treatment quickly. Both Trident Medical Center and Summerville Medical Center have earned The Joint Commission Gold Seal of Approval as Advanced Primary Stroke Centers. With an alert from EMS, the hospital's stroke treatment team can prepare for the patient's arrival. Before t-PA can be given, the team will do a CAT scan to rule out the possibility that the patient is suffering a hemorrhaging stroke rather than one caused by a blood clot. The team will also check the patient's blood sugar levels to make sure they aren't unusually low, which can cause symptoms similar to those caused by stroke. “This testing takes time, though, making it even more important to get patients to the hospital quickly,” Dr. Rentas says. For more information on the warning signs of stroke, visit Tridentstrokecare.com.