Swedish Medical Center March 04, 2019

Illustration of brain with clot in a vessel

A stroke can happen to anyone at any time and is a “brain attack”, meaning blood flow to an area of the brain gets cut off. The cells in the affected area of the brain do not get oxygen and start to die off. Abilities controlled by this area of the brain, such as muscle control or memory, can be lost.

As 30,000 brain cells die each second during a stroke, medical personnel needs to intervene as quickly as possible to stop the stroke and limit any damage.

If you think someone is suffering from a stroke, think FAST and do the following:

  • Face. Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • Arms. Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward? Or is one arm unable to rise up?
  • Speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is his or her speech slurred or strange?
  • Time. If you observe any of these signs, call 911 immediately.

Although strokes usually occur in people age 65 and up, adults in younger age groups are suffering strokes in increasing numbers. In 2005, more than seven percent of stroke victims were between ages 20 and 45, compared to just four percent in the mid-1990s. Researchers have suggested that the obesity epidemic in young people is one reason for the increase.

Young people usually exhibit similar stroke symptoms to older adults, but they may not seek treatment as quickly since strokes are considered rare in those under 50. One study found that young people are also more likely to be misdiagnosed in emergency rooms because common symptoms such as headaches, vertigo and nausea may be associated with migraines, intoxication and other conditions.

“The biggest piece of advice I can give is to call 9-1-1 immediately, and let the operator know it’s a stroke,” says Jeff Wagner, MD, a neurosurgeon and the stroke program director at Swedish Medical Center. “As soon as the symptoms start, check the time, so you’re able to tell the medical team. While you wait for the medical team to arrive, lay down flat. Lying flat on the ground may make the symptoms better temporarily and prevent some of the brain from being damaged while you wait.”

Cause and effect

The primary causes of stroke are obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking and excess alcohol consumption. However, other medical problems are also linked to stroke, including:

  • Blood clots or blood clotting abnormalities
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Family history of stroke
  • Drug abuse
  • Trauma from whiplash or sports-related activities
  • Migraines combined with an aura and/or loss of vision or function on one side
  • Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)

There are many steps you can take to prevent stroke, including getting enough exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, and keeping other risk factors under control.

Learn more about Colorado’s first certified Comprehensive Stroke Center. Visit www.swedishhospital.com/stroke.