PUBLISHED: 5:39 PM on Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Be sure to act F.A.S.T. to detect stroke symptoms
Every 45 seconds, someone in the United States experiences a stroke. Yet, despite being the third leading cause of death and the leading cause of adult disability in this country, fewer than one in five Americans can recognize a symptom of a stroke. In addition, some people still believe that this condition is simply a "stroke of fate," not realizing that stroke is preventable and treatable.

photo courtesy of Bartlett Regional Hospital
  From left: Estrada Bernard, MD, neurosurgeon, Anchorage Neurosurgical Associates and Justine Muench, RN, MN, staff development coordinator, Bartlett Regional Hospital
May is National Stroke Awareness Month and the National Stroke Association is urging people to take charge of their health by knowing the signs and symptoms of a stroke, asking their doctors about stroke prevention and adopting healthy lifestyle habits. A good first step is to have your blood pressure checked. High blood pressure is the number one cause of stroke. Nearly 60 million Americans - 29 million women - have high blood pressure, and almost a third do not even know it.

While a stroke can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender or race - women are uniquely impacted. Consider these facts:

• 4 out of 5 American families will be touched by stroke.

• For every minute that brain cells are deprived of oxygen during stroke, the likelihood of brain damage increases.

• Treatment can be more effective if given early on.

• TIA (transient ischemic attack) is a risk factor of stroke and a call to action to prevent a stroke.

A stroke, or "brain attack," occurs when blood and oxygen flow to the brain is interrupted by a blood clot or a broken blood vessel. This kills brain cells in the immediate area, often causing physical and emotional disabilities including speech problems, memory loss and paralysis.

In addition to high blood pressure, there are several things that can contribute or increase a person's risk for stroke including cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, obesity and family history. Women have additional risk factors to consider such as pregnancy and using hormone replacement therapy to treat menopause, all of which can increase stroke risk.

But the good news is that stroke is one of the most preventable of all life-threatening health problems, provided you pay proper attention to lifestyle and medical risk factors. Treatment exists to help minimize the effects of a stroke, however it must be given within 3 hours of the first symptom. So it is important for people to be able to recognize the symptoms of stroke and seek emergency medical attention. Recognizing stroke symptoms can be easy by learning to Act F.A.S.T.(see sidebar)

Dr. Estrada Bernard, a Neurosurgeon with Anchorage Neurosurgical Associates was recently in Juneau to speak with the Juneau Medical Staff about the latest in the prevention and treatment of strokes. Dr. Bernard states that the tendency for most people experiencing stroke symptoms is to ignore or delay getting help. "Act F.A.S.T. and call 911. Knowing the symptoms of stroke and acting quickly may save your life."

Studies show that stroke patients who arrive at the hospital by ambulance receive quicker treatment than those who arrive by their own means.

Justine Muench, RN, MN, who has worked at Bartlett Regional Hospital for a number of years and for the State of Alaska in the Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Program, indicates that Bartlett Regional Hospital is currently developing a systematic treatment protocol to rapidly diagnose and treat strokes as an emergency according to National Institute Neurological Disorders. This includes using state of the art CT scans, medications and consultation with stroke neurology experts via telemedicine.

Every year, more than 750,000 Americans experience a stroke, but with increased awareness 80 percent of all strokes can be prevented. While the statistics are sobering, they are not irreversible. The National Stroke Association is committed to reducing the incidence and impact of stroke through creative educational programs. By educating people about stroke, we can save lives and preserve quality of life. For more information on stroke and stroke prevention, call 1-800-STROKES or visit