The old adage goes that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” However, when it comes to strokes, prevention may save your life. A stroke is a medical condition that occurs when the blood flow is inhibited in the brain, which prevents the brain from receiving needed oxygen and nutrients. This causes cell death in the brain. There are two types of strokes: ischemic, when the blood flow to the brain is blocked, and hemorrhagic, when a sudden bleed in the brain occurs damaging brain tissue.
“Strokes kill more women than men each year, and it is the No. 3 cause of death in women,” said Kristen Ronosky, RN, MSN SCRN, Manager of Allegheny Health Network’s Wexford Campus Stroke Program. “Unfortunately, African American and Hispanic women have an even greater risk than Caucasian women, and it can lead to disability and death.”
AHN Wexford Hospital’s Primary Stroke Center is working to prevent strokes by making women aware of risks factors, symptoms of stroke and for those who may be experiencing a stroke, to provide fast, accurate diagnosis of stroke and innovative treatment and therapies. It recently received certification by the Joint Commission as a Primary Stroke Center.
“Primary stroke designation recognizes the exceptional care stroke patients have been receiving at Wexford Hospital all along; our standardized, evidence-based approach to management; as well as the strong commitment from the entire leadership team and staff to ensure excellence in the care of our patients and communities. Having a primary stroke center in Wexford ensures that the communities north of Pittsburgh have a hospital close to home to receive the highest quality of care for conditions like stroke when minutes make a difference in outcomes,” said Dr. Allan Klapper, President, AHN Wexford Hospital.
AHN Primary Stroke Centers have a dedicated stroke treatment program staffed by stroke specialists. They work together to create individualized treatment programs for each patient, including making sure each patient has the continuing care they may need after they’re able to leave the hospital.
Led by AHN stroke director and interventional neurologist Russell Cerejo, MD, Wexford Hospital’s acute, multidisciplinary stroke team is comprised of physical, occupational and speech therapists, case management and social work, stroke navigators, neurologists, ER physicians along with dedicated stroke certified nursing staff.
It is believed that 80% of strokes can be prevented by making lifestyle changes and managing chronic health conditions. “The two most important things you can do to prevent stroke is to know your risk factors and your numbers,” said Ronosky. “Risk factors for women include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity and smoking. Some contraceptives also increase the risk. Pregnancy is also a risk factor, especially when preeclampsia is present. Women live longer than men, and longevity raises your risk. While there is a genetic component as well, you can’t control that. But you can take charge of your health.”
Research has shown that African American and Hispanic women have higher rates of diabetes and obesity due to dietary habits, and that increases their risk of stroke. “Recent studies have also shown a link between sickle cell disease and stroke. Also, we’re learning that there is a higher risk of stroke in women who have experienced depression,” said Ronosky.
There are ways to mitigate those risk factors. “One important way is to know your numbers,” said Ronosky. “You should know your blood pressure numbers. The acceptable rate has dropped recently so your blood pressure should not be greater than 130/80. You should also know your cholesterol levels and hemoglobin A1c, which is an indicator of diabetes or prediabetes. You should also know your weight.”
“The common symptoms of stroke include a drooping face and arm weakness, particularly on one side of the body, along with slurred speech and difficulty seeing. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity and diabetes are leading causes of stroke,” said Dr. Cerejo.
There is a mnemonic device to help you remember them, and it is the words BE FAST. B stands for balance. E is for eyesight changes. F is for facial drooping. A is for arm weakness, and T is for time to call 911.
“You don’t have to experience all of the symptoms to be having a stroke,” said Ronosky. “Time is of the essence when you are dealing with a stroke. Clot-busting drugs have to be given within 4.5 hours. We’d much rather have you come in and be evaluated than lose precious time.”
Once there is cell death in that part of the brain, there is no recourse to getting it back. If you present at the hospital with stroke symptoms, diagnostics such as a CT scan, CT with perfusion may be performed. And if a stroke is diagnosed the Stroke Center’s physical, occupational, and speech therapists can help you to regain strength, movement, and speech capabilities.
“While the Stroke Center is striving to help patients, truly preventing a stroke is the best course of action,” said Ronosky.
To learn more about AHN stroke care and how to reduce your risk of stroke, visit www.ahn.org/stroke.
By Janice Lane Palko