GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) — Stroke is a leading cause of death in the nation and causes more serious long-term disabilities than any other disease, according to the National Institute of Health.
Rates are higher than other parts of the country in the Southeast, including South and North Carolina, which researchers believe is due to higher rates of obesity, cigarette smoking and high blood pressure in those areas.
Women and African Americans have a higher risk, as well as those with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
At Bon Secours St. Francis Health, Director of Cerebrovascular, Endovascular and Neurocritical Care Dr. Sharon Webb says every second after a stroke, the brain loses 32,000 cells, which is why calling for an ambulance immediately is imperative, even if the person suffering a stroke is in a remote area. That’s because paramedics are trained to rate patients according to their stroke severity and save time taking them to the right hospital.
“They are going to know which hospitals can do these procedures, and some of that is due to the hospital’s designation,” she says.
When Debbie Johnson suffered a stroke earlier this year, she didn’t think it was an emergency.
“I thought I had tripped and fallen,” Johnson says. “But I didn’t realize I didn’t have any use in my left arm and leg.”
By calling 911 immediately, her husband saved her life.
The first line of defense is clot-busting drugs, but for larger strokes, as of last year St. Francis’ downtown location is one of two Upstate hospitals that can perform a mechanical thrombectomy.
“We go into the groin and we take catheters all the way up to the brain,” Dr. Webb explains. “When I pull out the stint, the clot comes with it and the vessel is open.”
That procedure made all the difference for Debbie Johnson, originally was brought to a hospital that didn’t perform the procedure before being transferred to Bon Secours St. Francis.
The hospital is in the process of applying to become the first thrombectomy capable facility in South Carolina, although the procedure has been performed there for about a year.
To recognize the symptoms, Dr. Webb says to use the acronym “BE FAST.”
“’B’ is for balance, ‘E is for abnormal eye movements, ‘F’ for facial droop, ‘A’ for arm weakness, ‘S’ for speech difficulty and ‘T’ for time to call 911,” she says.
She also adds that a small stroke that goes away naturally can become a bigger stroke, and any early signs of those symptoms should be discussed with your doctor. “Just because you went back to normal doesn’t mean there isn’t something wrong.”
Johnson says before her big stroke incident, she experienced a minor one a month before, but didn’t realize it was a stroke. “I was trying to speak but it didn’t make much sense,” she says.
To hear more from experts at Bon Secours St. Francis Health System on this topic and others, listen every Saturday morning at 10am on 106.3 WORD radio.