May 5, 2004
Being stroke-savvy can save your life
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—As a pharmacy technician at Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson, Linda Adcock sees people every day who are recovering from the ravages of a stroke.
“But I never thought it would happen to me,” she said.
That common misconception leads many people to disregard the warning signs of stroke, and is why May’s Stroke Awareness Month activities are so important, says Dr.David Collipp, a rehabilitation medicine physician at Methodist.
“If we can educate people about stroke symptoms and hammer home the critical need for emergency treatment, more lives will be saved and fewer people will suffer lifelong disabilities,” Dr. Collipp said. “According to the National Institutes of Health, people who are treated within 90 minutes of the onset of symptoms show the most improvement. That means people can’t afford to dismiss their symptoms and take a wait-and-see approach.”
Dr. Collipp recommends seeking immediate medical treatment if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
- Sudden severe headaches with no known cause.
Adcock said she was at her home in Ridgeland when she began slurring her speech and knocking over items. “My brother and sister were there, thank goodness,” she said. “They called 911.”
Adcock was fortunate to have help at hand, and lucky her symptoms were textbook warning signs.
One study reported in the Annals of Emergency Medicine has shown that women were 62 percent more likely than men to experience “non-traditional” stroke symptoms, such as headache, face pain and limb pain; disorientation and change in consciousness; hiccups, nausea and general weakness; and chest pain, shortness of breath and palpitations.
The study also found that women’s symptoms were less specific. This could explain why male stroke victims often receive more prompt emergency room evaluations than women and why more women than men die of stroke.
“This research just validates the need for everyone to be aware of the risk factors associated with stroke and to do all they can to prevent what has become the nation’s third leading cause of death,” Dr. Collipp said.
According to the Mississippi State Department of Health, stroke disables about 2,000 Mississippians each year. But Dr. Collipp said that advances in acute care and improvements in long-term therapy mean more stroke survivors are now reclaiming their lives.
Adcock is a perfect example of that trend. “When I first came here I couldn’t even touch my index finger to my thumb,” she said. “Basically I couldn’t walk and I couldn’t do anything for myself.”
Nevertheless, Adcock felt sure she would recover because she had confidence in the medical staff associated with Methodist’s fourth floor stroke unit. “The therapists here are tremendous,” she said. “I knew when I came in here I was going to go out walking.
Adcock was back on the job Nov. 2, and says she has adjusted well. “I still can do everything I did before, I just can’t do things as fast,” she said.
But in a sense, that’s fitting. Adcock said having a stroke taught her to slow down and stop and smell the roses. “I had kind of taken this place for granted,” she said. “Now I consider myself blessed.”
Risk factors for stroke include:
- High Blood Pressure
- Tobacco Use
- Diabetes Mellitus
- Carotid or Other Artery Disease
- Transient Ischemic Attacks or “Mini Strokes”
- Atrial Fibrillation or Other Heart Disease
- Sickle Cell Anemia or a High Red Blood Cell Count
- High Blood Cholesterol
- Physical Inactivity and Obesity
- Excessive Alcohol Intake
- Illegal Drug Use
Source: American Stroke Association