Health

May is Stroke is Awareness Month: Awareness is key to treatment, prevention

Local health care officials urge more education

Julie McGraw

Julie McGraw (center) visits Chicago for St. Patrick’s Day 2019 with her mother and her siblings, a trip she couldn’t make the year before because of her stroke. (Photo courtesy or Julie McGraw)
Julie McGraw Julie McGraw (center) visits Chicago for St. Patrick’s Day 2019 with her mother and her siblings, a trip she couldn’t make the year before because of her stroke. (Photo courtesy or Julie McGraw)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Julie McGraw doesn’t have diabetes, has no family history or any other risk factors that could have indicated to her she was at risk for a stroke.

But in February 2018, an odd sensation in her left arm and a feeling something wasn’t right sent her to the emergency room — where within hours, she experienced a stroke.

“I didn’t think it would happen to me,” said McGraw, 65-year-old Cedar Rapids resident.

May is Stroke Awareness Month, and local health care officials say awareness of symptoms in patients like McGraw is important in long-term patient outcomes.

Awareness among those at risk is also an important step to prevent strokes in the first place.

According to the American Stroke Association, almost 800,000 people across the country have a stroke every year. It is the second-leading cause of death in the world, and a leading cause of serious disability.

“As the population ages, we’re seeing more strokes than we used to,” said Dr. Ryan Dowden, emergency medicine physician and provider at East Central Iowa Acute Care Center within UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s.

Jennifer Austin, nurse and stroke coordinator at Mercy Medical Center, said patients can identify stroke symptoms by using the B.E.F.A.S.T. method:

• Balance: A sudden loss of balance or coordination

• Eyes: Sudden vision change or trouble seeing

• Face: Facial drooping

• Arms: Weakness in an arm or leg

• Speech: Slurred or strange speech

• Time: If an individual exhibits any of these symptoms, call 911.

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Austin said sudden change in vision is a less-known sign of a stroke, but eye doctors and other eye care professionals are beginning to recognize it as a symptom.

Dowden emphasized the importance of calling 911, rather than waiting for a ride from a family member or driving yourself. Driving yourself could put yourself and others at risk, especially if a stroke occurs in the car, he said.

When someone comes to the emergency room for a stroke, Dowden said they first determine what kind of stroke the patient is having — either a stroke where the blood vessel is blocked, or one in which the blood vessel is ruptured.

A common type of treatment is a Tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) injection. However, it is only an option within the first three hours of stroke onset.

“Early detection and treatment gives patients the best potential outcome,” Dowden said.

Austin said each stroke is different for each individual, and so is the treatment for that person.

McGraw spent 30 days in Mercy after her stroke last year, undergoing speech, physical and occupational therapy. She was able to return home, and still uses a cane to help with balance.

This year, McGraw traveled to Chicago on St. Patrick’s Day weekend to celebrate the holiday with all seven brothers and sisters and her mother.

“Like with any disease, it’s good to be surrounded by family and friends,” she said.

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Cedar Rapids health care professionals say it’s also key for a patient to understand whether or not they are at risk for a stroke.

Those at risk for a stroke include those of a certain age, those with a family history or who have experienced a stroke for themselves. Poor diet, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and those with diabetes or heart disease also are at risk.

Up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented by making healthy lifestyle choices, according to the American Stroke Association. Ways to prevent a stroke include:

• Don’t smoke

• Manage blood pressure

• Be physically active and eat a healthy diet

• Control cholesterol

• Manage diabetes

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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