Back to articles

Knowledge and Time Can Save You From Stroke’s Most Devastating Effects

Henry Tang, DO Stroke

Stroke is one of those things most people prefer not to think about. We just hope it never happens to us or a loved one. Although it is not a pleasant topic, taking some time to educate yourself about it can make an enormous difference if you or someone around you ever experiences a stroke.

You may be surprised to hear that most people who have a stroke don’t die from it. However, stroke is the number-one medical condition that causes disability, and it can have devastating effects on the body. Stroke patients may not lose their lives, but they often lose their independence.

In terms of limiting the damage from a stroke, the most important thing to remember is this: Time is brain. A stroke cuts off oxygen flow to the brain, and brain tissue is extremely sensitive to this loss of life-giving oxygen. In fact, brain tissue can begin to die after just four minutes without oxygen. When brain tissue dies, it is gone forever.

Stroke treatment is all about halting the death of tissue and saving the area around the dead tissue. This area is called the penumbra. Time is of the essence because the longer you wait to get help, the more brain tissue dies in this very vulnerable penumbra.

In addition, clot-busting drugs that restore oxygen to the brain are time-sensitive: Ideally, they should be given within 60 minutes of the start of the stroke. Within about 4-1/2 hours after the stroke, clot-busters are no longer an effective or safe option.

For that reason, it is vitally important to know the warning signs of stroke and to act quickly. The American Stroke Association has created a model called FAST to help you learn how to spot a stroke and how to respond:

  • F is for face drooping. Does one side of the person’s face droop, or does the person say his or her face feels numb? When you ask the person to smile, is the smile uneven?
  • A is for arm weakness. Does the person report that one arm is weak or numb? When you ask him or her to raise both arms, does one arm drift downward?
  • S is for speech difficulty. Is the person’s speech slurred, or is he or she unable to speak or hard to understand? Can the person repeat a simple sentence back to you, such as “The sky is blue”?
  • T is for time to call 911. If someone shows any of the three symptoms above—even if the symptoms go away—call 911 immediately. If possible, be sure to note the time when the symptoms first appeared. That will help the medical team provide the most appropriate care to the person experiencing the stroke symptoms.

If you or someone around you is experiencing stroke, it is vital to get to a Certified Primary Stroke Center—like Simi Valley Hospital—as quickly as possible. Such centers have protocols in place to provide the fastest possible care. If you come by ambulance, for instance, the stroke team—which includes a neurologist like me or one of my colleagues, as well as Emergency Department personnel and other medical professionals—will be waiting for you when you arrive.

The mental picture most people have of a stroke victim is an older, more frail individual. While it is true that stroke risk increases with age, the reality is that younger people in their 20s, 30s and 40s can also have a stroke. Never ignore symptoms of stroke just because the person is young.

The causes of stroke in young people tend to be different than the causes for older people. Younger people tend to experience stroke from things such as trauma (from motor vehicle accidents, a torn blood vessel from sports injuries and so forth), patent foramen ovale (a common heart condition that only occasionally carries a stroke risk), use of birth control pills, pregnancy, drug use and other factors.

No matter your age or current health condition, it’s certainly worth your time to learn more about stroke risks, prevention, symptoms and treatment. For more information, visit strokeassociation.org or go to simivalleyhospital.com, hover over “Services” then click on “Stroke Care.”

Henry Tang, DO, is a Simi Valley neurologist and medical director of the stroke program at Simi Valley Hospital.