May Is Stroke Awareness Month
Part 1 of the Einstein-Exponent Stroke Series
With Dr. George Newman, Chairman, Department of Neurosensory Sciences Einstein Healthcare Network,
On April 3, President Barack Obama announced plans for the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies program, a new initiative to map the human brain. The goal is to develop treatments for brain disorders and injuries. Chief among those is preventing and treating strokes. “The brain is the next frontier in terms of healthcare and this is an important first step to get the brain on the radars of leading scientists across the country,” said Jim Baranski, chief executive officer of the National Stroke Association (NSA).
Dr. George Newman, chairman of the department of neurosensory sciences at Einstein Healthcare Network, has had stroke treatment on his radar for decades. Newman is well aware that, according to the NSA, stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. One stroke occurs every 40 seconds.
The NSA also has good news. From 1998 to 2008, the mortality rate from stroke fell by 19 percent. “Awareness about the symptoms of stroke is key to getting medical intervention that can not only save lives but limit the neurological damage that occurs,” Newman says. “Friends and family are the first line of defense in recognizing those symptoms when their loved one is experiencing them. That’s why we educate everyone, from grandkids on up, about stroke’s warning signs.”
Those warning signs compose the acronym FAST: face, arm, speech, time. Face drooping, arm weakness and speech difficulty mean it is time to call 911. Newman says other symptoms include severe headache, slurred speech, inability to understand other people speaking, numbness or tingling, clumsiness and trouble walking.
“It is the sudden onset of these symptoms that signifies a stroke,” Newman explains. “If these symptoms evolve over weeks or months, then there may be a medical problem that needs diagnosing, but it is not a stroke. Stroke is fast and deadly.”
Newman explains just how quick and lethal strokes can be. “The currency that makes the brain work is called ATP,” he says. “When the blood flow to the brain is interrupted, half of that ATP disappears in three seconds. In 15 seconds, all of it is gone.
“The brain keeps functioning for a little while because there is a small reserve of batteries of the brain cells,” Newman says. “But those batteries last for only one to four minutes.”
Getting to an emergency room quickly is critical. “We have tremendous tools to treat stroke patients,” Newman says. “I would like the patients here in less than 90 minutes. If they could get here in 20 minutes, that would be great. But no one should ever feel that it is too late.”
Who is at most risk for stroke? Women. “We are not sure why this is, but many more women have strokes than men,” Newman says. In fact, the NSA says approximately 55,000 more women than men have a stroke every year. So widespread is the risk that women are twice as likely to die from stroke than breast cancer.
Also at risk: people over age 55, those with high blood pressure and the obese. The other large risk group is people under age 40. Newman says that approximately 15 percent of strokes happen to people in that age range. “The added risk to them is that people think they are too young to be having a stroke so it must be something else,” Newman says. “No one is too young or too old to have a stroke.”
Newman wants everyone to recognize the signs of stroke. Any sudden change should be considered a possible stroke. “I read a study that, in 600 phone calls, 599 of them were made by people observing the signs of stroke in someone else,” Newman says. “It is critical that we educate ourselves so that we can get help for our loved ones.”