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Health Team

Knowing symptoms, responding quickly can save stroke patients

Posted May 24

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— Every 40 seconds in this country, someone has a stroke, making it the leading cause of death and disability.

Fewer people suffer those long-term effects, though, if they recognize the symptoms and act quickly.

Corky Murdock, 69, enjoys being on his feet and visiting family and friends. On Labor Day weekend last year, it was all put at risk when he suddenly couldn't move one arm and his speech was slurred. His daughter urged him to go to the hospital quickly.

"Normally, that wouldn't have happened with me," Murdock said. "But thank God my daughter was there."

It was a stroke.

A clot—blocking blood flow to a part of the brain—is the cause of 87 percent of all strokes.

Symptoms of a stroke depend on which part of the brain is affected.

WakeMed nurses say the key to diagnosing a stroke is to think "FAST."

"Facial droop, arm weakness, speech problems—those are the things we see most often," said WakeMed Stroke Program Coordinator Kimberly Elks.

To mimic the symptoms, WakeMed sets up booths so visitors can better understand other potential symptoms like partial vision loss, using special sunglasses, or loss of feeling to the fingers by wearing oven mitts.

If symptoms appear, time is of the essence, Elks said, and people should call 911.

"The most important thing for people to remember is that 'Time is Brain,'" Elks said. "Brain cells are dying every minute after a stroke starts."

If that patient arrives at a stroke care center like WakeMed within three hours they might be able to receive a clot-busting drug.

It worked for Murdock, and he noticed improvements within a few hours.

"I started being able to move my leg," Murdock said.

The later the treatment is offered, the more patients will likely need extensive rehabilitation.

"Most of our patients go home with a lot of gains after a rehab stay," said WakeMed physical therapist Alisa Dunn.

Murdock regained almost all of his motor functions.

"I still have a little memory loss, (and it's) hard to talk sometimes," Murdock said.

It is possible to mitigate the risk of having a stroke, though. Doctors say the ways to decrease the risk include:

» Heart disease

» Diabetes

» High blood pressure

» High cholesterol

» Sickle cell disease

» Atrial fibrillation.

Another risk factor is if you've had a previous stroke or mini stroke.

Behaviors that increase the risk of having a stroke are a diet high in saturated and trans fat, physical inactivity, obesity, smoking and drinking too much alcohol.

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