With a Stroke, “Time Is Brain”
Ben Franklin’s aphorism that “Time Is Money” encourages quick action in the business world. When you waste time, you lose money.
Fast forward 275 years. Stroke experts now use a twist of that simple statement to help us understand the crucial role time plays when a stroke strikes: Time Is Brain.
Some quick math: According the AHA journal Stroke, the human forebrain, where most strokes occur, contains around 22 billion neurons. For every minute after the most common type of stroke (more on that below), 1.9 million neurons are destroyed, or around 32,000 per second! And once they’re gone, they’re gone and can’t be replaced.
The loss of that many neurons is a big deal. Neurons are responsible for receiving sensory input from the external world, sending motor commands to our muscles and transforming and relaying the electrical signals at every step in between. Loss of neurons means loss of brain functions that allow us to interact with and survive in our world.
In fact, the long-term effects of a stroke can be devastating. Post-stroke complications can include paralysis, seizures, incontinence, depression and many more symptoms and conditions requiring ongoing care and treatment. Outside of physical trauma from an injury or accident, there are only a handful of health emergencies, such as a heart attack, in which every second counts. Stroke is at the top of that list.
Types of Stroke
Note: Every stroke is a medical emergency. If you suspect a stroke (see B.E. F.A.S.T. tips below) call 911 immediately.
What is a stroke? According to the American Brain Foundation, a stroke is a disease that occurs when the brain’s blood supply is interrupted by factors such as blood clot or a hemorrhage. Loss of blood flow means loss of oxygen.
There are two types of stroke:
- Ischemic stroke — the most common type of stroke — occurs when a blocked blood vessel stops blood supply to the brain, which prevents the brain from receiving the oxygen and nutrients it needs.
- Hemorrhagic stroke — occurs when bleeding from a ruptured blood vessel (e.g., an aneurysm) in the brain causes pressure buildup, cutting off oxygen and harming or killing brain tissue.
Both types of stroke can cause permanent brain damage because both can result in the destruction of neurons, synapses and fibers that receive and transmit the electrical and chemical signals responsible for brain function.
As if losing 1.9 million neurons per minute weren’t bad enough, in a typical untreated ischemic stroke, the average patient also loses 13.8 billion synapses — and seven miles of myelinated fibers — per minute!
With Stroke, Every Second Counts — B.E. F.A.S.T.
The care and treatment of strokes has improved dramatically in recent years. Skilled neurosurgeons armed with minimally invasive diagnostic tools and highly accurate procedures such as those used at Memorial Health System’s certified comprehensive stroke centers have helped improve survival rates and recovery outcomes for stroke patients.
But all that experience and technology is still working against the clock. The sooner an experienced physician can treat a stroke patient, the better the outcome is likely to be.
That’s why stroke experts encourage everyone to learn the signs and symptoms of a stroke. The idea is that by knowing the signs, the average person can summon help immediately by calling 911.
- Balance: Is there sudden loss of balance?
- Eyes: Is there sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes?
- Face: Does one side of the face droop or look uneven? Ask them to smile.
- Arm: Is one arm or leg weak or numb and does it drift down? Ask them to raise both arms.
- Speech: Is speech slurred or unrecognizable? Ask them to repeat a phrase.
- Time: Call 911 or go to a hospital immediately.
Reviewing and memorizing the B.E. F.A.S.T. tips for stroke recognition could literally help you save someone’s life and improve their chances of a more complete recovery after a stroke.
Reducing Your Risk of Stroke
Every year in the U.S., some 800,000 people experience a stroke, and 180,000 of them don’t survive the experience. Stroke is also the leading cause of permanent disability, which makes reducing or managing risk factors such an important part of our overall health.
Certain risk factors, such as age, sex and race, can’t be controlled. Older people, women and Black and Hispanic Americans have elevated risk of stroke.
But many other risks can and should be managed, especially but not only by people at higher risk. These manageable risk factors include:
- High blood pressure
- Cigarette smoking
- Carotid or other artery disease
- Irregular heartbeat
- High cholesterol
- Unhealthy diet
- Lack of exercise
As you can see, many of these risk factors are the result of an unhealthy lifestyle. Making small but steady changes to how we live can make a huge difference in preventing a stroke.
According the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the following are the best ways of reducing your risk of stroke:
Healthy Living and Lifestyle
- Choose healthy foods and drinks
- Keep a healthy weight
- Get regular physical activity
- Don’t smoke
- Limit alcohol
Control Your Medical Conditions
Talk with your doctor about steps you can take to lower your risk for stroke.
- Check cholesterol
- Control blood pressure
- Control diabetes
- Treat heart disease
- Take your medicine
Work with Your Healthcare Team
Consult your primary care doctor and other medical professionals to prevent or treat the medical conditions that lead to stroke.
Next Steps for Stroke
Fast action in the face of a stroke can make all the difference. Learn to B.E. F.A.S.T.
Taking steps to live healthier and follow your doctor’s advice and treatment plans is so important for stroke prevention.
If you have concerns or questions about stroke, talk to your primary care physician. If you’re looking for a primary care doctor, you can start your search here.
Together with Memorial Neuroscience Institute, Memorial Health System operates four certified stroke centers in Broward County, Florida.
And remember, if you suspect that someone is having a stroke, call 911 immediately.