May is Stroke Awareness Month. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in South Carolina, resulting in more than 2,000 deaths each year, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. South Carolina is among a group of Southeastern states with high stroke death rates referred to as the “Stroke Belt.”
A stroke occurs when a blood vessel carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts. When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood and oxygen it needs, so it starts to die.
“The main warning signs of stroke are focal and motor weakness, weakness on one side of the body, slurred speech, facial drooping, confusion and inability to talk,” said Dr. Deborah Simpson, Emergency Medicine physician at Lexington Medical Center.
Risk factors for stroke are untreated high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and high cholesterol. In South Carolina, high blood pressure, smoking and other risk factors are prevalent.
One of the most promising treatments for stroke is Tissue Plasminogen Activator, or TPA. TPA is a drug that dissolves the clot causing the stroke. Doctors perform the treatment either with an IV or catheter. Use of the technology for stroke is about five years old. It’s becoming a standard of care.
“The tissue doesn’t die and patients do not have long term deficits,” said Dr. Simpson. “It can prevent people from having physical or occupational therapy after a stroke.”
You can view an animation of TPA at our health information library by clicking here.
Patients must meet certain protocol to receive TPA including beginning treatment within a few hours after the onset of symptoms and the ability to begin IV or catheter therapy in a certain amount of time. The outcome of TPA can be very beneficial, reducing permanent disability.
According to Dr. Simpson, most people with strokes are over age 40 and have multiple risk factors.
“Have your blood pressure checked and treated and quit smoking,” she said. “Modifying your lifestyle can help prevent stroke.”
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