What You Need to Know About Stroke

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    Recognizing the signs and symptoms of stroke, and knowing what to do if you suspect you or a family member is having a stroke, can help save critical time. For the most up-to-date information, Dr. Henry H. Woo, a cerebrovascular and endovascular neurosurgeon, and Dr. David Fiorella, a specialist in interventional and diagnostic neuroradiology, explain what is most important to know. Both physicians are among the world’s foremost experts, and have been instrumental in developing pioneering treatments for stroke.

    Why is stroke awareness so important?

    Prompt treatment is crucial since early action can minimize brain damage and potential complications. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States, killing approximately 137,000 people a year, as well as the leading cause of long-term disability. Fortunately, between 1996 and 2006, the stroke death rate fell by 33.5 percent. This is not only due to improved treatments but also to increased awareness of the signs, which has resulted in people seeking treatment faster and, more critically, at the right place, such as a stroke center. If there was just one thing you absolutely needed to know about stroke, it would be this: If you suspect a stroke, get to a primary stroke center immediately.

    What is stroke?

    There are two kinds of strokes: ischemic, in which a blockage prevents blood flow to the brain, and hemorrhagic, in which there is bleeding in or around the brain. Ischemic strokes are the most common, occurring in about 80 percent of cases in Suffolk County. Both kinds can manifest as either acute or chronic. An acute stroke generally signifies the sudden onset of symptoms, indicating that you are indeed having a stroke. A chronic stroke indicates the presence of factors that could eventually cause a stroke, such as a blockage or an unruptured aneurysm. In these cases, if detected in time and treated, stroke can be prevented.

    What are the signs of a stroke?

    The signs of ischemic stroke include paralysis, particularly on one side of the body, difficulty with speech or vision, overall weakness or total loss of consciousness. People also may experience more subtle signs, such as numbness and tingling,
    which may indicate what is commonly called a mini-stroke, or transient ischemic attack (TIA). Although TIAs tend to quickly resolve themselves, they are often a precursor to a major stroke, so it is important to take them seriously and see a doctor if you suspect you have had one. The signs of a hemorrhagic stroke are more dramatic and painful: the sudden onset of a headache, often described as the worst headache of your life.

    If you suspect you're having a stroke, what should you do?

    If you experience symptoms of stroke, get immediate help. Call 911. Alert the operator that you are having symptoms of a stroke. Since speed of treatment is crucial, being at the right place at the right time is key. Ask to be taken to a primary stroke center, where appropriate and efficient protocols are in place, the latest interventions are available 24/7 and your medical team is experienced and highly trained. The Cerebrovascular and Stroke Center at Stony Brook, designated by The Joint Commission and the New York State Department of Health as a Primary Stroke Center, meets all of these criteria, and more. The Center offers specialized and highly trained endovascular teams; the latest equipment, including three angiography suites that have capacity to meet Suffolk County’s needs and provide 24/7 care; leading-edge procedures including every FDA-approved minimally invasive stroke intervention technique; high-tech diagnostics; and access to major ongoing clinical trials.

    What kind of stroke research is taking place at Stony Brook?

    As part of Stony Brook’s Institute for Advanced Neurosciences, the Cerebrovascular and Stroke Center takes an active role in advancing the treatment of stroke through research. We participate in numerous clinical trials that address intracranial aneurysms, acute ischemic stroke and carotid atherosclerotic disease, among others. We also provide access to pioneering endovascular devices to treat a variety of cerebrovascular disorders. The Cerebrovascular Center draws physicians from across the U.S. who come to Stony Brook to learn about these devices. The goal is to provide the most up-to-date technology and advanced care directly to patients in Suffolk County and beyond.

    For more information about the signs of stroke and the Cerebrovascular and Stroke Center, call (631) 444-4000.

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    All health and health-related information contained in this article is intended to be general and/or educational in nature and should not be used as a substitute for a visit with a healthcare professional for help, diagnosis, guidance, and treatment. The information is intended to offer only general information for individuals to discuss with their healthcare provider. It is not intended to constitute a medical diagnosis or treatment or endorsement of any particular test, treatment, procedure, service, etc. Reliance on information provided is at the user's risk. Your healthcare provider should be consulted regarding matters concerning the medical condition, treatment, and needs of you and your family. Stony Brook University/SUNY is an affirmative action, equal opportunity educator and employer.