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Stroke: Knowledge can prevent long-term disability

A new stroke education effort is underway for Flathead County. The campaign, announced by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) in concert with Kalispell Regional Healthcare (KRH), aims to create awareness of the signs of stroke and the need to get immediate medical treatment.

“The most important factor in successful treatment of acute stroke is being able to rapidly recognize the early signs and immediately get help,” said Kurt Lindsay, MD, medical director of the stroke program at the KRH Neuroscience and Spine Institute.

Stroke is the most common cause of severe brain injury, which is why it is so closely linked with disability. It is a leading cause of serious adult disability in the United States. A stroke occurs when the flow of blood to an area of the brain is disrupted, usually by a blood clot. Brain cells continue to die due to lack of oxygen until the disruption is repaired—at a rate of almost two million cells a minute. About 10 to 20 percent of strokes are fatal.

“For survivors, stroke is a life-changing event. Early recognition and rapid treatment provides the best chance for a full recovery and for the stroke patient to be able to return to a normal life,” explained Dr. Lindsay.

The death of brain cells due to stroke leads to a wide range of disabilities, including a loss of mobility, muscle weakness, impaired speech, and cognitive problems. The extent of the disability depends on many factors, including the location of the damaged area.

“The time window for effective treatment is only about three hours,” Dr. Lindsay said. “If you see any sign of stroke or even suspect a stroke, call 911 to get that person to emergency treatment. Don’t delay.”

Since stroke can interfere with thought, mobility, vision and speech, stroke victims must often rely on others to know the signs and get them to treatment.

“Remember FAST,” said Lindsay. “Face drooping on one side; Arm or leg weakness; Speech difficulty; Time to call 911.”

The signs of stroke are sudden. They may include dizziness, severe headache, and loss of balance. In a transient ischemic attack, or “mini-stroke,” the signs may appear and then go away, but immediate medical treatment is still needed.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that about one in six Americans will experience a stroke at some point after age 65. Although the risk of stroke increases with age, stroke can occur in individuals at any time of life.

For more information about the signs of stroke and what your risk factors might be, contact Nicki Perisho, RN, stroke coordinator, at Kalispell Regional Healthcare Neuroscience and Spine Institute at (406) 751-3067, by email at [email protected], or by visiting www.kalispellregional.org.