May is American Stroke Month—a perfect time to learn about this common but difficult-to-detect condition

Margaret Nash, R.N., stroke program coordinator, Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center.

Margaret Nash, R.N., stroke program coordinator, Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center.

It can happen in an instant. A loved one loses the ability to move one side or starts slurring speech.

Every 40 seconds someone suffers from a stroke, which is also known as a “brain attack.” It is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. and the leading cause of adult disability. During a stroke, a blood clot blocks an artery or a blood vessel breaks, interrupting blood flow to an area of the brain. As a result, brain cells can die and brain damage can occur.

When a stroke occurs, time is critical to saving brain cells.

“If you suspect that a loved one is having a stroke, stay where you are and dial 9-1-1 immediately,” says Margaret Nash, R.N., stroke program coordinator at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center.

David Srour, M.D., chief of emergency medicine at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center, explains: “Most strokes are caused by a clot that forms in a narrowed blood vessel or breaks off from the heart or somewhere in the body, cutting off blood and oxygen to the brain. Or a weakened blood vessel could rupture, causing bleeding in the brain.”

As a designated primary stroke center, Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center has a stroke team on-call 24 hours a day. The emergency department physician, the neurologist, the stroke nurse responder, the bedside nurse and the radiologist respond within minutes.

“Throughout our hospital, we provide a system of quality care to stroke patients,” Dr. Srour says. “Our dedicated stroke team rapidly identifies stroke patients and begins treatment quickly to improve outcomes and minimize the chances of long-term disability.”

Within minutes of arriving at the hospital, a patient’s CT (computed tomography) scan is read, labs results are available and—if the patient is a candidate—a clot-busting therapy called tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA, is administered. Stroke patients can receive tPA three hours from the start of symptoms to reduce long-term disability for the most common type of stroke.

Once patients are admitted to the hospital, the coordinated care continues. Nash meets with each patient admitted to Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center’s dedicated stroke unit, which is staffed with specialized nurses, speech therapists, physical therapists and the nurse diabetes educator.

In addition to knowing the signs of a stroke (see “Act FAST”), experts advise understanding risk factors such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, smoking and irregular heartbeat.

“Lifestyle risk factors can be managed with weight loss, a healthy diet and medications,” Dr. Srour says. “This is also especially important for people with risk factors they cannot change, such as family history.”