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Prompt Treatment Critical to Stroke Recovery

By M. Farrukh Nizam, MD

Each year, 700,000 people suffer a stroke and nearly a quarter of them die, making stroke the third leading killer in the United States. Don’t be a statistic: develop healthy lifestyle habits to prevent stroke, familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of a stroke and learn what to do if you or a loved one think you are having one.

Stroke prevention begins with regular exercise, a well-balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight. Get your cholesterol and blood pressure checked regularly and take steps to keep them under control. Undetected sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, can also increase your risk of having a stroke. If you snore, fall asleep during the day or suspect that you may suffer from a sleep disorder, talk to your doctor about getting a sleep study to diagnose your problem and obtain treatment.

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to a part of the brain is suddenly interrupted. The signs and symptoms of a stroke may not be as obvious as those of other illnesses. To help you assess whether you or a loved one are having a stroke, remember the following STROKE test:

  • Smile. Is there drooping on either side of the face?
  • Talk. Is speech slurred?
  • Raise arms. Are arm muscles weak?
  • Open eyes.  Are eyes drooping? 
  • Knowledge. Is the individual confused or disoriented?
  • Equilibrium. Is the person dizzy or off-balance?

If the answer to one of these questions is yes, call 9-1-1 immediately. Although these symptoms may not appear to be serious, do not delay in seeking medical treatment. Time lost is brain lost. It is extremely critical for stroke patients to get medical treatment within the first few hours after having a stroke. If clot-busting drugs are administered in a timely manner, they may help prevent or minimize brain damage and give patients the best chance for a full recovery.

Because time is of the essence, the stroke team at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset begins mobilizing as soon as a rescue squad calls the Emergency Department to let them know that a potential stroke patient in on the way. Upon the patient’s arrival in the Emergency Department, Emergency Department physicians, neurologists and nurses work together to quickly assess the patient’s condition. Blood tests, CT scans and other diagnostic tests are expedited to ensure a prompt diagnosis.  If a stroke is diagnosed, the team will determine whether the patient is eligible to receive clot-busting drugs. Surgery may also be an option.

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset was recently designated a Primary Stroke Center by The Joint Commission, the nation’s leading health care accreditation organization. It is one of only 19 facilities in New Jersey to achieve this designation, certifying its ability to quickly diagnose strokes, tailor a treatment and intervention program to an individual patient’s needs and establish quality improvement measures to continually review and improve treatment response times.

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset also offers a full range of rehabilitation services for stroke patients, including physical, occupational and speech therapy.

Dr. Nizam, a board-certified neurologist, is medical director of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset’s Stroke Center.