Health Tips in the Nick of Time: Treating Strokes

Provided By Novant Health


Every second is vital when it comes to treating strokes
A stroke happens when a blockage or abnormality in an artery causes a lack of blood flow to the brain, and when it comes to treating stroke, minutes matter.

“Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S., and for those who do survive, the long-lasting effects can be debilitating,” said Dr. Olukayade Onasanya, neurologist at Novant Health. “For every minute a stroke is left untreated, brain cells die.”

Recognize the signs
Onasanya said that any neurological symptom can be a sign of a stroke, but the most common are easy to remember if you just think F.A.S.T.

  • Facial droop: One side of the face droops or feels numb.
  • Arm weakness: Weakness or numbness on one side of the body.
  • Speech difficulty: You have trouble expressing or understanding speech.
  • Time to call 911.

Following a stroke, many patients experience disabling effects, including paralysis, balance issues, vision problems, behavior changes, memory loss and seizures, but according to the American Stroke Association patients treated within three hours may have improved the chances of recovering from a stroke.

“The most frustrating thing for me as a stroke specialist is that folks will stay home with their symptoms,” Onasanya said. “They’ll notice that one part of their body isn’t working and their first call is to their primary care doctor or their spouse. That is never the answer. The answer is to call 911.”


In treatment, time matters
When treating a stroke, hospitals coordinate with emergency responders to ensure that patients get care as quickly as possible.

“The EMTs (emergency medical technicians) on the ambulance alert the emergency room that the stroke patient is coming and a whole care team is mobilized — the emergency room staff, pharmacy, lab technicians, radiology and a neurologist — will be waiting to confirm the diagnoses and administer clot-busting medication as quickly as possible after the patient arrives,” Onasanya said.

To help patients determine which hospitals are best prepared to treat stroke patients, The American Heart Association and American Stroke Association developed the Get With The Guidelines program, which recognizes facilities through achievement awards for their adherence to clinical best practices. Eight Novant Health facilities have received Get With The Guidelines achievement awards this year. Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center and Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center received the highest honor. To qualify, hospitals must achieve 85 percent or higher adherence to all Get With The Guidelines-Stroke achievement indicators for two or more consecutive years and 75 percent or higher compliance with five of eight Get With The Guidelines-Stroke Quality measures.

The two facilities also qualified for Target: Stroke Honor Roll Elite, meaning they have met quality measures developed to reduce the time between a patient’s arrival at the hospital and treatment with the clot-busting drug tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA.

The national standard is to administer tPA within 60 minutes of a patent’s arrival at the emergency room. According to Onasanya, the drug is given within less than 45 minutes, 62 percent of the time at Forsyth Medical Center.

“This is a very exciting time for stroke care,” he said. “We are competing on a level with major academic medical centers to provide the best care, and best outcomes, for our patients.”

Recognize your risk
According to the American Stroke Association, 80 percent of all strokes are preventable. The following conditions all contribute to your stroke risk:

  • High blood pressure
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Peripheral artery disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Poor diet
  • Inactivity
  • Obesity

If you have one or several of these conditions, talk to your doctor about how to lower your risk.

Some patients may experience transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), or “warning strokes,” that produce stroke-like symptoms but no lasting damage. A person who’s had one or more TIAs is almost 10 times more likely to have a stroke than someone of the same age and sex who hasn’t.

“You never know if your next stroke is going to be a major event, so a TIA should be considered a medical emergency and followed up immediately with a healthcare professional,” Onasanya said.