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UCI Health provides prevention tips, treatment guidelines for stroke awareness month

Learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of stroke

May 01, 2014

Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death — and the leading cause of disability in the United States. In recognition of National Stroke Awareness Month in May, UCI Health stroke experts encourage you to recognize the signs and symptoms of a stroke, identify your potential risk factors, and know why it is so important to get immediate medical care if you suspect you or a family member has had a stroke. 

“A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted or reduced and the brain is deprived of oxygen — a major medical emergency,” says Dr. Steven Cramer, professor of neurology, anatomy and neurobiology and director of the UCI Health Comprehensive Stroke & Cerebrovascular Center. “Within moments, brain cells begin to die. It is critical to call 9-1-1 and get medical help immediately.”

Because more than 80 percent of strokes can be prevented, Cramer stresses the importance of knowing the early signs. While stroke symptoms vary, they can come on quickly and include:

  • Numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially if on one side of the body
  • Confusion or trouble speaking or understanding
  • Difficulty with vision either in one eye or both
  • Trouble walking, dizziness or loss of balance or coordination
  • Severe headache

Using the FAST test can help people recognize and respond to the signs of stroke:

F = FACE  Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

A = ARMS  Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S = SPEECH  Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Does the speech sound slurred or strange?

T = TIME  If you observe any of these signs (independently or together), call 9-1-1 immediately.

There are two types of strokes:

  • Ischemic — the most common type — occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted or reduced, and the brain is deprived of oxygen
  • Hemorrhagic — less common but more damaging — occurs as a result of blood leakage within brain tissue. 

Stroke-like symptoms that go away quickly should not be ignored. Known as transient ischemic attacks, or TIAs, they are red flags for stroke. After a person experiences a TIA, there is a 5 percent of having a stroke within 48 hours and a 10 percent chance of one occurring within three months. Immediate care for a TIA, can prevent stroke in many cases.

Several factors can increase a person’s risk of stroke:

  • Proper treatment of conditions such as high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes, high cholesterol and atrial fibrillation can sharply reduce this risk.
  • People who smoke, are obese, or do not exercise regularly are also at an increased risk though they can modify the risk by changing this behavior.
  • Other risk factors cannot be modified, including increased age or a family history of stroke at a young age.

About 30 percent of strokes can be reversed if treated immediately by a stroke care team, Cramer says.

It's important to call 9-1-1 rather than drive a stroke patient directly to the emergency room. If a hospital is not equipped with a stroke care team, patients can lose valuable time being transferred to a hospital that does provide the necessary level of care. 

With Orange County’s only comprehensive stroke center, UCI Health meets the highest national standards to care for the most complex stroke cases. Stroke specialists offer the most advanced minimally invasive treatments to immediately restore blood flow to the brain and improve the patient’s condition.

They also conduct clinical research and pioneer new treatments to improve patient’s function after stroke. The Journal of Neurology recently published Cramer’s research showing that stem cells removed from bone marrow may be beneficial in stroke recovery. 

Through May, UCI Health will post tips about prevention, detection and treatment of strokes on Facebook (facebook.com/UCIrvineHealth), and Twitter (@UCIrvineHealth). Go to ucirvinehealth.org/stroke for more information about screening, services and appointments.

On May 31, the Orange County Stroke Rehab Network will host the fifth annual Stroke Awareness Picnic at Hewitt Hall on the UC Irvine campus from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information or to RSVP, please contact stroke@uci.edu.

— Susan Thomas, UCI Health Marketing & Communications

Steven Cramer, MD, is board certified in Psychiatry, Neurology and Vascular Neurology. He is Vice Chair of Research in the Department of Neurology; Clinical Director of the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center; and Associate Director of the Institute for Clinical & Translational Science. Cramer’s clinical interests are stroke and stroke recovery. 

UCI Health comprises the clinical, medical education and research enterprises of the University of California, Irvine. Patients can access UCI Health at physician offices throughout Orange County and at its main campus, UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange, Calif., a 412-bed acute care hospital that provides tertiary and quaternary care, ambulatory and specialty medical clinics, behavioral health and rehabilitation. U.S. News & World Report has listed it among America’s Best Hospitals for 13 consecutive years. UC Irvine Medical Center features Orange County’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, high-risk perinatal/neonatal program, Level I trauma center and Level II pediatric trauma center, and is the primary teaching hospital for UC Irvine School of Medicine. UCI Health serves a region of more than 3 million people in Orange County, western Riverside County and southeast Los Angeles County. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter