Published on January 27, 2012

Know The Symptoms of Stroke

Genesis is the QC expert in treatment The recent health crisis of U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois highlights the importance of knowing the signs and symptoms of stroke and calling 911 immediately to get help.

Kirk, 52, suffered a stroke over the weekend. He reported having a headache and feeling dizzy and checked himself into a Lake Forest hospital before being transferred to Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Tests showed he had a tear in the carotid artery on the right side of his neck. Carotid arteries carry blood to the brain. He subsequently underwent surgery to remove a portion of his skull to relieve pressure from swelling.

Knowing the acronym FAST for the signs and symptoms of stroke -- and getting to the hospital quickly in the event of a stroke -- are important take-aways from Kirk’s experience, says Angie Overton, MSN, RN, CNRN, Genesis stroke coordinator.

“Know the signs and symptoms and call 911,” Overton says. “Stroke is a life and death emergency -- every second counts. In fact, the brain loses 1.9 million neurons for every minute a stroke goes untreated.”

The National Stroke Association says to “Think FAST” if you see someone exhibiting the signs and symptoms:

FACE: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

ARMS: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward

SPEECH: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?

TIME: If you observe any of these signs, call 911 immediately.

It’s important to take note of the time symptoms first appear. If given within four-and-a-half hours of the first symptom, there is a clot-busting drug called t-PA or Activase that has the potential to reduce or eliminate long-term disability for ischemic strokes, when blood flow to the brain is obstructed.

“It’s not unusual for people to delay getting help for a stroke. They’re often in denial,” Overton says. “When people have a heart attack, they have pain and know it’s important to call 911. Unfortunately, that same level of awareness isn’t there for stroke. “Most people having an ischemic stroke have no or little pain -- their hand might be numb or it doesn’t work right, for example, but there’s no pain.”

About 42 percent of stroke patients wait as long as 24 hours before going to the Emergency Room, according to the National Institutes of Health.

A primary stroke center

Genesis Medical Center, Davenport is the first hospital in the Quad Cities area to earn national distinction as a Joint Commission Certified Primary Stroke Center. Research shows stroke patients receive better treatment and recover with fewer disabilities when treated at a certified primary stroke center.

“The certification elevates the care of our stroke patients and ensures everyone is on board with the latest treatments and working to coordinate care quickly and efficiently,” Overton says.

For the most rapid response, Genesis has instituted a “Stroke Alert” at its hospitals to mobilize a broad spectrum of hospital departments to respond in a well-planned system of care. Often, paramedics initiate stroke alerts in the field.

Genesis has neurosurgical services and a dedicated Neuroscience Unit on the West Central Park campus in Davenport, where nurses are specially trained in stroke care. It offers the region’s only outpatientdesignated Stroke Prevention and Recovery Center (SPARC) and CARFaccredited brain injury rehabilitation programs.

“Even though the stroke center certification is for Genesis Medical Center, Davenport, the same care protocols for stroke are in place at our Illini and DeWitt hospital campuses, making those hospitals stroke-ready as well,” Overton says. “The drug t-PA is administered, and then the patient is transferred to the Davenport campus.”

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