When it comes to treating a stroke, the importance of timing cannot be understated.
Recognizing the signs and receiving care as soon as possible can often mean the difference between a patient recovering or not, according to local health officials, who are working to get the word out about the importance of prompt care as this week marked the end of National Stroke Awareness Month.
"Early stroke diagnosis is important for a couple of reasons. The treatments that we have for stroke are all more effective the sooner they are given after the onset of the symptoms. As well, there are 'time windows' beyond which treatments cannot be used at all," Dr. Joe Toscano, emergency department medical director at San Ramon Regional Medical Center, told the Weekly.
"Finally, patients can develop complications from a stroke, so seeking care as early as possible permits medical personnel to evaluate and observe for those complications as well as do things to prevent or treat them," Toscano added.
According to the American Heart Association, a stroke occurs when a clot or rupture interrupts blood flow to the brain, depriving it of oxygen-rich blood and killing brain cells. The longer a brain goes without oxygen-rich blood, the more cells die and the more damage is done; this is why identification and treatment is so vitally important.
To help people identify and react to someone who may be having a stroke, the American Heart Association has developed the "BEFAST" system to recognize the symptoms of a stroke:
B: Balance - Is there a loss of balance, coordination or trouble walking?
E: Eyes - Is it difficult to see in one or both eyes?
F: Face - When the person smiles, does one side of the face droop?
A: Arms - Does one arm drift down when the person raises both arms?
S: Speech - Is speech strange or slurred?
T: Time - Don't wait to call 911 if you see any of the above signs.
Other common symptoms also include numbness or weakness (especially on one side of the body), confusion in speech and the patient suffering an extreme headache.
Despite stroke being the fifth leading cause of death in the United States and about one in four stroke survivors is at risk for another, officials from the American Heart Association say that up to 80% of second clot-related strokes can be preventable through, among other things, managing blood pressure.
"Checking your blood pressure regularly will help let you know if you have it under control. It will also help you understand which factors are putting you at higher risk for stroke and heart attack," American Heart Association officials said as a part of their Stroke Awareness Month campaign.
"If you have high blood pressure, you should talk to your doctor to figure out how frequently you should be checking at home," they said.
Officials added that for most people checking their blood pressure twice in the morning and twice in the evening for a week will help their doctors better understand their blood pressure; however, it is important that each patient consult with their physician.
To help achieve ideal health, the American Heart Association also encourages people to refrain from smoking, maintain physical activity, control cholesterol, reduce blood sugar and maintain a healthy body weight.
For Tri-Valley residents, San Ramon Regional Medical Center in San Ramon and Stanford Health Care-ValleyCare in Pleasanton have both been certified as primary stroke centers by The Joint Commission, an organization that accredits thousands of health care organizations and programs throughout the United States.
San Ramon Regional has also earned The Joint Commission's Gold Seal of Approval and is a part of the Contra Costa County Stroke System, which has made the hospital's emergency department a stroke receiving center for the county.
Hospital staff say the Contra Costa County Stroke System is a coordinated 911 emergency response that connects patients to trained emergency staff who are capable of identifying strokes quickly and transporting them to designated stroke centers for care.
"Many are familiar with strokes and the devastating effects they can have on victims," hospital staff said. "Every minute counts when someone is experiencing a medical emergency such as a stroke or heart attack, and our team is able to provide those patients with immediate attention."