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Know Stroke’s Warning Signs

Do you think you would recognize if you or a loved one were having a stroke? Early recognition and prompt treatment are critical to minimizing serious or permanent disability from stroke; yet, a study in the journal “Stroke” published in March found that one in five U.S. women couldn’t name even one symptom of stroke. In previous studies, men have fared no better.

“The cardiac folks have done a good job getting the word out about heart attack signs and symptoms. Everyone knows what chest pain means,” says Dr. Lewis Eberly, M.D., director of Neuroscience and Stroke at Inova Alexandria Hospital, “but not everyone knows what numbness on one side of the body means.”

Stroke occurs when a clot or tear inside an artery in the brain disrupts the normal flow of blood. Deprived of oxygen and essential nutrients, brain cells quickly become damaged or die. People experiencing a stroke may experience a range of symptoms like sudden numbness or weakness on one side of the body, slurred speech or difficulty speaking, a sudden, severe headache, dizziness or visual disturbance or vision loss in one eye. Without urgent medical treatment, stroke can result in permanent disability or even death. That’s why the American Stroke Association urges F.A.S.T. recognition of stroke signs and symptoms:

Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one drift downward?

Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Is their speech slurred?

Time: If you notice these symptoms, it’s time to call 911.

Dr. Eberly cautions that people often discount another early warning sign of stroke known as Transient Ischemic Attack, or TIA. Characterized by stroke-like symptoms that last a few minutes or a few hours, TIAs may occur before a major stroke. They, too, require medical attention. “A minor stroke is just as important as a major stroke,” he says.

The Inova Alexandria Hospital Stroke Center, under the direction of Dr. Eberly, is a recognized leader in providing timely stroke care with excellent outcomes. We set a standard for others to follow: Inova Alexandria was the first hospital in Northern Virginia to collaborate with emergency medical services providers in the field to quickly assess symptoms and alert our Emergency Department of incoming stroke patients. That’s now considered an industry-wide best practice.

In addition, our stroke team committed to changes to improve timely care and outcomes. Those changes helped Inova Alexandria Hospital exceed national guidelines that call for the timely delivery of medicine to dissolve a brain clot — the primary cause of most strokes — shortly after a patient arrives at the hospital.

Those achievements earned us The Joint Commission’s designation as a Primary Stroke Center for the last nine years and counting. And just this year, we were honored to receive the “Get With The Guidelines — Stroke Gold Plus Achievement” award from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association for our commitment to quality improvement.

I am proud of our Stroke Team and their accomplishments, yet realize we still have a long road before everyone — men and women alike — recognize the symptoms of stroke. Educate yourself about the warning signs. Learn more at www.inova.org/stroke.