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Awareness of stroke symptoms important

Awareness of stroke symptoms important

3 April 2014

MidCentral Health is encouraging people to learn more about stroke; ahead of Stroke Awareness Week which runs from 7-13 April.

Strokes are the third most frequent cause of death in New Zealand, accounting for about 2500 deaths each year. It doesn’t just impact older people either, with 10 percent of deaths occurring in those aged under 65. It is also the leading cause of long-term disability.

One-third of new stroke patients (700 per 1,000,000) die each year, and less than half recover and regain their independence. It is important to identify risk factors and causes of stroke in order to take steps toward prevention. Primary prevention addresses all measures for avoiding a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA). Prevention includes blood pressure lowering, cholesterol reduction, smoking cessation, and antiplatelet therapy (to help prevent blood clots).

A stroke can either result from a brain bleed or from a blocked vessel in the brain. Brain bleeds can present with an abrupt onset of a severe headache (like no headache ever experienced before), accompanied by vomiting and neck stiffness.

However, more often strokes present with one or more symptoms highlighted below.

To help prevent the deaths and ongoing disabilities that result from strokes, the Stroke Foundation of New Zealand has devised a quick check to recognise stroke symptoms.

Using the FAST check, people are encouraged to look at the:
Face – smile see if one side of the mouth is drooping
Arms – raise both arms and see if one side is weak
Speech – try speaking. Is it possible, and are words jumbled or slurred?
Time – act fast, any lost time could mean lost brain function.

The faster people act when a stroke is taking place, the better. For some strokes thrombolytic treatment (breaking the clot down) is a potential treatment in the first few hours.

MidCentral Health neurologist Dr Ivan Iniesta and clinical nurse specialist acute stroke service Imogen Watson are urging people to learn the symptoms of a stroke, and to take preventative measures.

“Time is very important when someone is suffering a stroke, and if you don’t know the symptoms then it will take longer for them to get medical care. This is why it is so important that everyone is aware of what a stroke looks like. People should also make sure that they keep their blood pressure low, as this is a major cause of strokes.

“It is a common misconception that strokes are not preventable, and come from nowhere. Leading a healthy lifestyle with exercise, healthy eating, limiting alcohol and quitting smoking can all help prevent strokes from occurring. These are all everyday activities that have benefits for your entire body.”

The longer it takes for such potentially beneficial treatment to be given the larger the brain damage is likely to be. Immediate contact with emergency services should be made in case of any of the above (FAST) symptoms. Remember that ‘time is brain’.


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