Stroke: Early detection and treatment are key to recovery

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The leading cause of serious long-term disability and fifth leading cause of death, stroke affects approximately 795,000 people each year in the United States. Sometimes referred to as a “heart attack of the brain,” strokes are caused when a blood vessel bursts or is blocked. This leads to a lack of blood supply and deprivation of oxygen, rapidly killing brain cells. Although strokes are serious, 80 percent are preventable. Early detection and treatment are key to recovery.

A common misconception about stroke is that it only affects the elderly, but this is untrue; stroke can affect anyone at any age, so it is important to be able to identify potential risk factors. Risk factors for stroke include race, age and genetics, and although these risk factors cannot be controlled, many risk factors can. Additional ways to prevent stroke are to quit smoking, limit alcohol intake, maintain a healthy and balanced diet, and maintain a healthy weight. In addition to healthy lifestyle choices, it is also critical to treat underlying causes of stroke, including atrial fibrillation, diabetes and transient ischemic attacks.

Atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib, is the most common type of irregular heartbeat and increases the risk for stroke by three to five times. Hearts affected by AFib do not pump blood effectively—the heart quivers instead of properly contracting to pump blood.  This chaotic heart rhythm can cause the blood in the heart to pool and form blood clots. Patients who take blood thinners for AFib have a decreased risk for stroke than those who do not.

Diabetes also increases the risk of stroke; people with diabetes are one and a half times more likely to have a stroke. Risk of stroke is increased in those with diabetes because when the blood has too much glucose (sugar), it can lead to fatty deposits in the blood vessels. These deposits then narrow blood vessels and blood blockage can occur, causing a stroke. Those with diabetes can prevent stroke through diet, exercise, maintaining healthy blood glucose levels and taking medication as prescribed.

Transient ischemic attacks, also known as TIAs or "mini strokes," are also major indicators of strokes. Mini strokes are a temporary blockage of blood flow. It does not cause any permanent damage, but they are typically indicators of a stroke to occur; approximately one third of people who experience a TIA have a larger stroke within a year. It is important to understand the signs of TIAs and seek medical help immediately.

“Once a blood vessel bursts or is blocked and oxygen stops flowing to the brain, time is ticking for a person’s future,” explains Dr. Omar Basha, neurologist with McLaren Port Huron. “Knowing how to spot the signs of a stroke can help save a life.”

If you can remember the acronym BE FAST, you can remember these signs to watch for:

  • Balance – Watch for a sudden loss of balance.
  • Eyes – Is there a sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes? Or double vision?
  • Face – Ask the person to smile and check to see if one side of the face droops.
  • Arm – Ask the person to raise both arms and see if one arm drifts downward.
  • Speech – Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence and check to see if words are slurred or the sentence is repeated incorrectly.
  • Time – If a person shows any of these symptoms, it is important to get to the hospital as quickly as possible, and immediately call 911.

McLaren Port Huron is a designated Primary Stroke Center by the Joint Commission and continues to provide cutting-edge, compassionate care to stroke patients. As part of the McLaren Stroke Network, our patients have access to interventional neurologists around the clock utilizing a cutting-edge stroke robot. For more information on strokes and stroke care, visit