Health Center - Brain and Nervous System

Brain and nervous system problems can affect one's central command system, potentially impairing memory and the ability to perform daily activities. Learning to live with or supporting someone with a neurological condition is challenging. We're here to help. Learn about the symptoms, causes, prevention and treatment of these disorders.

Stroke Awareness: Early Intervention Saves Lives

woman talking to her doctorStroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States, and the primary cause of disability. Each year, 780,000 new and recurrent strokes occur in the United States, and 55,000 more women suffered stroke than men in a year. The increased rate of stroke among women is partly due to women’s longer life expectancy. But researchers also suspect that women, particularly those under the age of 55, are more vulnerable because they are not familiar with the risk factors and warning signs associated with stroke. All women should become more aware of stroke since a lack of awareness regarding stroke symptoms can literally mean the difference between life and death. 

In the mid 1990s, medication became available to help minimize the effects of ischemic stroke (those caused by a blood clot in an artery in the brain). Until this time, few options had been available to treat the cause of stroke.  However, the medication must be administered in an emergency department setting within three hours of when symptoms first occur. 

Other treatments for stroke include a device that extracts the blood clot from the blood vessel in the brain where the blockage exists. This type of highly specialized procedure can only be performed at certain medical centers by medical experts with experience with the procedure. It must also be performed within eight hours of the onset of the stroke. Other similar devices used to flush the clot out of the brain blood vessel have been approved recently. Stroke experts may choose to use a combination of these devices in some situations.

Unfortunately, research shows that women often take longer to get to the hospital and tend to be treated more slowly once they arrive. Because of this, it has been estimated that women have a 30 percent lower likelihood of receiving optimal treatment than men. Reasons for these delays in care are unclear but may be partly due to the fact that women are more likely to report a combination of traditional and nontraditional symptoms (such as pain, lightheadedness and disorientation), making a stroke diagnosis less obvious. In cases like this, getting to the hospital as soon as possible and effectively communicating with medical personnel are key factors to a successful outcome. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, a spouse, friend or relative may need to assist in communicating with hospital staff. 

Over the past 10 years, emergency departments nationwide have developed programs that contribute to improved stroke outcomes. A number of regional hospitals are designated as primary stroke centers. These sites adhere to a set of national guidelines and have particular expertise in treating strokes.