As World Stroke Day – observed on Friday, Oct. 29 – fast approaches, Valley Baptist Health System is encouraging the community to learn more about the signs, symptoms, and treatment of stroke.
Stroke is a type of cardiovascular disease which affects the arteries leading to the brain and the arteries within the brain. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts. When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood and oxygen it needs, and that part of the brain starts to die.
Without timely treatment, stroke can cause long-term disability and death. According to the American Stroke Association, stroke is the fifth leading cause of death but it is the leading cause of disability in the United States and around the world.
Dr. Ameer E. Hassan, DO, FAHA, FSVIN, Head of the Neuroscience Department, Director of Endovascular Surgical Neuroradiology and Director of Clinical Neuroscience Research at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen, said it is critical for Valley residents to learn the warning signs of stroke and to call 911 immediately if they or a loved one is experiencing stroke symptoms.
“It’s important to recognize these signs that a stroke is happening, because you can save a life,” he said. “The point to remember is that ‘time equals brain.’ A delay of even five or 10 minutes can make a big difference in the patient’s outcome.”
At Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen and Brownsville, a clot-busting medication called tPA is used when medically indicated to reverse strokes – but in most cases the medication must be given within three hours from the start of symptoms of a possible stroke.
Dr. Luis Gaitan, Medical Director of the Stroke Program at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville, said that it is important for eligible stroke patients to receive tPA as soon as possible as part of their treatment.
“Valley Baptist-Brownsville continues to strive for excellence in the acute treatment of stroke patients, and part of that effort is making sure our patients are receiving the appropriate care as quickly as possible,” he said. “When it comes to treating a stroke, every second counts.”
Valley Baptist-Harlingen, the first and most experienced Certified Comprehensive Stroke Center in the Valley and south of San Antonio, also offers endovascular stroke treatments, during which blood clots are extracted by specially-trained endovascular neurologists using tiny mechanical devices which are inserted into the blood vessels through thin catheters or tubes.
Valley Baptist-Harlingen is also the first hospital in the region to harness the power of artificial intelligence to analyze the imaging results of stroke patients. The AI alerts physicians and healthcare providers when it discovers abnormalities in the images of the patient’s brain, which in turn significantly improves treatment times through earlier diagnosis, and that correlates to improved patient outcomes, Hassan said.
“Artificial intelligence feels like it is two steps ahead of the game and has really played an important role in triaging some of the most complicated strokes we care for at Valley Baptist,” he said.
It is also important to note that while the community continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, seeking appropriate medical care for both emergent and chronic neurological conditions can have a major impact on positive outcomes.
“You should not delay stroke care because you’re afraid of COVID-19, stroke is very treatable even during a pandemic,” Gaitan said. “Every minute in delay to treatment leads to 2 million neurons dying. It is important for me to be extremely confident in my own hospital, and I have confidence that patients who come to Valley Baptist will get the appropriate care they need safely.”
While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed daily life throughout the world, it has led to new opportunities for critical research in the realm of stroke treatment. Hassan said that as the pandemic has progressed, he and Valley Baptist participated in more than 34 research papers on COVID in relation to stroke were published in 2020, with another 46 and counting published in 2021.
“We have looked at all aspects of COVID and stroke, and continue to push the envelope on intracranial atherosclerotic disease (ICAD) treatment, considering Hispanic patients along the border are more than three times more likely to have ICAD, which can lead to severely increased risk of suffering a specific type of stroke that is more difficult for doctors to treat with mechanical thrombectomy,” he said. “During the pandemic, we have also helped pioneer a new type of treatment with drug-coated balloon mounted stents, which are covered with a special coating that can help prevent the treated artery from re-narrowing (restenosis). At Valley Baptist, we have looked at hundreds of patients with ICAD and found restenosis to be one of the main reasons these patients come back with recurrent transient ischemic attack or stroke.”
For more information about prevention and treatment for stroke, consult your physician and visit valleybaptist.net/our-services/brain-neuro.
According to the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, only eight percent of Americans can identify what each letter stands for in the “F.A.S.T.” acronym, which reminds people what to look for when it comes to a possible stroke:
“F” is for FACE: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
“A” is for ARMS: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
“S” is for SPEECH: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
“T” is for TIME: If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately. Also note the time that symptoms of stroke first started; that will be important information to give to the medical professionals who treat the stroke victim.
Many hospitals and organizations are even adopting a new acronym, BE FAST. Recognizing that balance issues (B) and blurred vision (E for eyes) can also be important signs of stroke, they have been added to the acronym, encouraging the community to BE FAST should they experience any of the signs or symptoms of stroke.