Brain Attack: What You Need to Know
Act fast if you think you're having a stroke
You're making breakfast and all of the sudden your hand can't grip the spoon you're using to stir the oatmeal. Or you're having dinner with friends and all of the sudden you don't understand what they're saying — it's as if they're speaking another language. Or you may be standing waiting for a bus when one of your legs gives out suddenly.
In any of the above scenarios you could be experiencing a brain attack, or stroke. If so, you'll need to take immediate action by calling 911 or going to the nearest hospital emergency department.
"As we often say: Time is brain," says Vivien Lee, MD, a stroke neurologist at the Stroke Center at Rush. "The importance of quick action cannot be stressed enough," says Lee. "If you're having a brain attack, or stroke, time and brain tissue are your most precious commodities."
Many people may be too embarrassed to seek help, but as Shyam Prabhakaran, MD, a stroke neurologist at the Stroke Center at Rush explains: "We like to err on the side of caution. And, we're willing to take the time to investigate if there's any possibility that it may be a brain attack or other neurological problem, especially since the window of opportunity for providing certain therapies for a brain attack is limited. We want to provide those therapies as early as possible in the attempt to limit the brain injury and reduce long-term disability."
Knowing the Signs
Some of the common signs and symptoms of stroke are:
- Sudden, unexplained numbness, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden, unexplained weakness, especially on one side
- Unexplained dizziness
- Trouble with language (either speaking or understanding)
- Sudden vision loss (in one or both eyes)
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty walking
- Sudden headache
You may experience on or more of these symptoms and they may go away, but you still need to seek medical help and be evaluated. If it's not a brain attack it could have been a transient ischemic attack (TIA). A TIA is less serious than a stroke, but you'll still want to be evaluated. "People who have had a TIA have high risk of having a brain attack," says Prabhakaran. "It's similar to the idea of a tremor before an earthquake."
Knowing the Risks
You should be extra vigilant if you are 55 years old or older with the following risk factors:
- Having high blood pressure (hypertension)
- Having diabetes
- Having high cholesterol
- Being a smoker or using tobacco products
- Having heart or other vascular problems
"Our team offers standard as well as state-of-the-art care," says Prabhakaran. "We treat those patients who have had a brain attack or are at high risk for one, because of such things as narrowing of the arteries, aneurysms and other vascular disorders like arteriovenous malformations or AVMs. We provide leading-edge solutions for these issues that can vastly reduce your risk of experiencing a brain attack."
"Our multidisciplinary team and stroke-trained neurologists have so much to offer anyone who has had a stroke or who may be at risk for a stroke," says Candace Acevez, RN, the stroke program coordinator. "In addition to this expertise we also offer support groups and community education and outreach. Our goal is to take care of the whole person."
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Stroke Care at Rush
The Stroke Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois, provides comprehensive medical treatment for stroke and related conditions, from immediate treatment for people experiencing a stroke to specialized follow-up care for those coping with the aftermath of a stroke or stroke-related condition.
Because Rush is an academic medical center, patients often have access to investigative therapies and treatment approaches for stroke that are not widely available.
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