Health Team

Acting 'FAST' is key to combating strokes

Posted July 6
Updated July 7

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— It happened in December of 2013 – a wakeup call for now 53-year-old Lori Osbourne.

The wakeup call was a “mini-stroke,” which caused her to lose vision in her left eye.

“It was the most frightening experience of my life,” Osbourne said. “I lost my whole left side; I couldn’t lift my arm and I had to drag my leg.”

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States.

Fortunately for Osbourne, she was at work – as a supervisor for housekeeping at UNC Hospitals. Staff quickly took her to the emergency department for stroke evaluation and treatment.

UNC neurologist Dr. Michael Wang says Osbourne’s symptoms were consistent with a stroke. However, because her symptoms resolved within 24 hours, it was called a transient ischemic attack, or a “mini-stroke.”

“It's often times the warning sign that a major stroke may be imminently about to happen,” Wang said.

Ten to 15 percent of people who suffer a “mini-stroke” will have a major stroke within three months. More than one-third of people who have a TIA will have a major stroke within a year if they don’t’ get treatment.

“We definitely want patients to be on some sort of blood thinning medication when they've had a TIA or stroke,” Wang said.

Also controlling risk factors like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and smoking will help prevent strokes.

Osborne now uses a wrist band with a phone app to track her daily calorie intake.

“It tells me where I am with my food score for the day,” Osbourne said. “This shows me my heart rate throughout the night.”

The app also helps Osbourne manage stress, especially before bed time.

Osbourne did have a second min-stroke – a year after her first – but she’s been stroke-free for the past two years.

WRAL’s Health Team Expert Dr. Allen Mask said many patients go on a prescription blood thinner called Plavix, which keeps the blood platelets from clotting.

“It is just slightly more effective than aspirin in preventing a stroke, and aspirin is much cheaper and reduces risk of stroke by about 15 percent,” Mask said.

However there are potential complications, like bleeding.

Mask said it’s imperative to get someone suffering from a stroke to the hospital as soon as possible.

“Think of the acronym ‘FAST’; if you have a droopy ‘face,’ you have sudden weakness on one side such that you can't lift one ‘arm,’ you have difficulty ‘speaking.’ With any of those symptoms, it is ‘time’ to call 911 for help,” Mask said.

Ischemic stroke – where there’s a clot blocking blood flow and oxygen to the brain – account for 87 percent of strokes.

Mask said if the diagnosis is confirmed within three hours of the onset symptoms, the clot busting drug called TPA may dissolve the clot and resolve the symptoms.

“The key is recognizing symptoms and acting quickly to call 911,” Mask said.


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