Apr 4, 2022 How to Be Smart About Strokes

Knowing the signs and acting fast can make all the difference.

Do you know the signs of a stroke? Recognizing them could save a life—perhaps your own—and minimize a stroke’s potential life-changing effects.

“Unfortunately, people with stroke symptoms often put off calling for an ambulance because they think the symptom will pass or doesn’t signify a more significant health issue,” says Karen Vargas, RN, MSN, Stroke Program Coordinator for Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) Rahway.

“When someone notices a friend or family member not acting like themselves, they should call an ambulance and also make note of the time,” she says. “The sooner a doctor sees a patient, the sooner they can determine whether the underlying cause of the symptom is a stroke—and the more effective treatment is likely to be.”

The memory trick known as “B.E. F.A.S.T.” makes it easier for people to better connect suspicious symptoms with the possibility that a stroke is causing the issue. Warning signs include:

B for Balance: Dizziness, a fall, or vertigo.

E for Eyes: Blurred vision or loss of vision.

F for Face: A slight droop, an uneven smile or a change in the way the eyes look.

A for Arm: Is one arm weak or does it feel heavy and difficult to lift?

S for Speech: Is there slurred speech or an inability to get words out?

T for Time: Time to call 911.

Don’t delay help for a potential stroke victim. Call 911 rather than calling a doctor or driving the ill person to the emergency department. Emergency responders can communicate effectively with the hospital and even begin treatment on the way there, Vargas explains.

A Team For Treatment

Once at the hospital, a stroke patient requires a team of specialists, including a physician, nurse, neurologist, radiologist, lab technicians and stroke coordinator, Vargas says.

“We work as a team to ensure that the hospital provides the highest level of care in the diagnosis and treatment of patients affected by strokes and other cerebrovascular diseases,” Vargas explains. She collects and analyzes the data associated with established clinical practice guidelines so she can collaborate with the team in the creation, implementation and evaluation of standards of care.

“Another important aspect of the role is educating the community about the signs and symptoms of stroke, as well as stroke prevention,” she explains. One of her most important duties is turning complicated scientific information into usable and easy-to-understand terms.

“The words I might use to explain what a stroke feels like are ‘Pay attention when you feel something different or something you’ve never felt before,’” Vargas says.

This awareness is especially important because many people suffer ministrokes before having a bigger one. “Your family might notice slurred speech or a facial difference, but you’re the best person to know that something’s not right,” she adds. “You know your own body.”

The Three Types of Strokes

No matter what type of stroke a person suffers, time is always of the essence when it comes to treatment.

  • Ischemic stroke: The most common type of stroke, it occurs when artery-blocking blood clots travel to the brain.
  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA): A “warning” or “ministroke,” this is a precursor to an ischemic stroke. “A patient might have blurred vision on Monday and then it happens again on Wednesday, and each of these might be ministrokes,” explains Karen Vargas, RN, MSN, Stroke Program Coordinator at RWJUH Rahway. “Having a physician check for possible stroke is the best way to prevent another, more serious stroke from occurring.” In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the chance of having a stroke within 90 days of a TIA is as high as 17 percent, with the greatest risk during the first week.
  • Hemorrhagic stroke: Occurring when a blood vessel in or near the brain ruptures, these strokes are less common. They can occur because of a trauma, such as a fall, or uncontrolled high blood pressure and typically require surgical intervention, says Vargas.

Who's At Risk For a Stroke?

Risk Factors You Can't Control:

  • Age. Strokes are more common after the age of 65, although 10 to 15 percent of people who have a stroke are between the ages of 18 and 45.
  • Gender. Women have more strokes than men.
  • Family history. If your parent, grandparent, sister or brother has had a stroke, you may be at greater risk.
  • Race. Blacks have a higher risk of stroke, in part because they have higher risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.
  • Prior stroke, TIA or heart attack.

Risk Factors You Can Control:

  • High blood pressure. This can be managed with dietary changes, activity and medication.
  • Smoking. Quitting smoking will reduce your stroke risk.
  • Diabetes/high blood sugar.
  • Physical inactivity. Move more, sit less. Aim for being active at least 150 minutes per week.
  • Obesity/unhealthy diet. Five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day may reduce risk.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Carotid artery disease, peripheral artery disease, atrial fibrillation and other forms of heart disease.

To educate your group, club or organization on the signs and symptoms of stroke, call RWJUH Rahway Community Education at 732-499-6193.