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BE FAST: Time is Brain – Unveiling the Urgency of Stroke Awareness

A stroke is a serious potentially life-threatening medical condition that happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off. Stroke is an important health problem due to its potential for high mortality and morbidity rates, as well as its prevalence in the population.

According to Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics-2023 Update: A Report From the American Heart Association;

– When considered separately from other CVDs, stroke ranks fifth among all causes of death, behind diseases of the heart, cancer, COVID-19, and unintentional injuries/accidents.

– An estimated 9.4 million Americans ≥20 years of age self-report having had a stroke (NHANES 2017–2020 data).

– Each year, ≈795 000 people experience a new or recurrent stroke. Approximately 610 000 of these are first attacks, and 185 000 are recurrent attacks. 

– Projections show that by 2030 an additional 3.4 million US adults ≥18 years of age, representing 3.9% of the adult population, will have had a stroke, a 20.5% increase in prevalence from 2012.

– On average, every 3 minutes 17 seconds, someone died of a stroke.

– Approximately 67% of stroke deaths occurred outside of an acute care hospital.

– More females than males die of stroke each year because of the higher prevalence of elderly females compared with males. Females accounted for 56.5% of US stroke deaths in 2020.

Recognizing the symptoms and seeking immediate medical attention is crucial to increase the chances of survival and minimize long-term complications. 

Even if a stroke is not fatal, it can cause significant disability and have a profound impact on a person’s quality of life. Survivors may experience paralysis, loss of muscle control, difficulty speaking or understanding speech, cognitive impairments, emotional disturbances, and other long-term disabilities. Stroke rehabilitation and post-stroke care are vital in minimizing the impact of these disabilities and promoting recovery.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), stroke is the second leading cause of death globally and a leading cause of disability. The incidence of stroke varies across countries and populations, but it affects millions of people each year. Certain risk factors, such as age, high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, obesity, and unhealthy lifestyle choices, contribute to the increased prevalence of strokes.

Quickly recognizing if someone may be experiencing a stroke increases the potential for life-saving measures and prevents permanent damage. Therefore, it is essential to be aware of stroke symptoms.

To help remember the steps for early diagnosis and fast response to a stroke, you can use the acronym “BE FAST.” Each letter stands for a critical action or symptom to look for when suspecting a stroke. Here’s what it stands for:

B – Balance: Sudden loss of balance or coordination.  

E – Eyes: Sudden vision loss or double vision. 

F – Face: Ask the person to smile. Look for drooping on one side of the face.

A – Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Look for weakness or drift in one arm.

S – Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Check for slurred or garbled speech.

T – Time: If you observe any of the above signs, it’s time to call emergency services immediately. Time is critical in stroke treatment.

Remember, these signs are not exhaustive, and other symptoms can also indicate a stroke. If you suspect someone is having a stroke, it’s essential to act quickly and seek immediate medical attention.

The sooner a person receives treatment for a stroke, the less damage is likely to happen. Now let’s take a closer look at the emergency treatment of stroke. The time-sensitive treatment for stroke is known as thrombolysis or clot-busting medication. The specific medication used is called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). This treatment is most effective when administered within a specific time window after the onset of stroke symptoms.

The current recommended time window for thrombolysis is within 4.5 hours from the onset of symptoms. However, in some cases, it may be possible to administer thrombolytic therapy up to 9 hours after symptom onset under certain criteria and with careful evaluation.

It is crucial to emphasize that time is critical in stroke treatment. The sooner thrombolysis is initiated, the better the chances of successfully dissolving the clot and restoring blood flow to the affected part of the brain. Delaying treatment significantly reduces the effectiveness of thrombolytic therapy.

In addition to thrombolysis, there is another time-sensitive treatment called endovascular thrombectomy. This procedure involves physically removing the clot using specialized tools, typically performed by interventional radiologists or neurosurgeons. Endovascular thrombectomy is recommended for selected patients with large vessel occlusion strokes and can be performed within a specific time window, generally up to 6 hours or sometimes up to 24 hours, depending on individual patient factors.

These time windows and treatment options can vary depending on the specific guidelines and protocols in different healthcare settings. If you suspect someone is having a stroke, call emergency services immediately, as they will be able to assess the situation and provide the appropriate treatment in a timely manner.