Health Column: Know the signs of a stroke


In about the time it takes you to read this column, three people will have suffered a stroke. Stroke — which occurs when a clot or ruptured vessel interrupts the flow of oxygenated blood to the brain — attacks someone every 40 seconds, according to the American Stroke Association, which is celebrating National Stroke Awareness Month during May. 

Stroke causes brain cells to die at a rate of two million per minute — and the longer one waits to receive treatment, the less likely it is that available treatment options will help, said Dr. Samson Mebrahtu, director of neurodiagnostic medicine at South Shore Neurologic Associates in Riverhead.

“People ignore signs and symptoms,” he said, “or think that they are going to go away. They usually tell us ‘I had the symptoms yesterday and I ignored them,’ and then they woke up and were paralyzed on one side.

“Time is of the essence,” Dr. Mebrahtu stressed. “Time equals brain.”

Often, however, people don’t know what indicators to look for, he said, recommending that patients and those with friends and relatives at risk learn to think “FAST” — literally.

Check for any of the following:

Does one side of the Face droop? Does one Arm drift downward, feeling heavy? Is Speech slurred or strange?

If you observe any of these signs, Dr. Mebrahtu said, it’s Time to go to the hospital or call 911.

“It is essential because most of the time family members may be the ones recognizing some of the signs,” he said

For patients who seek care within three hours of the first symptom, there is a clot-busting medication that may help reduce long-term disability, but it cannot be administered after a certain amount of time has passed, he said.

For those who don’t get to a hospital until seven hours or more have passed, there aren’t many treatment options and, he explained, “We will have to wait and see what the body does in terms of recovering.”

And for North Fork residents, top-notch hospital care isn’t too far away.

Last month, Peconic Bay Medical Center received an advanced certification for its treatment of stroke victims, making it the only hospital on the East End — and one of just four in Suffolk County — to earn the distinction, granted by the not-for-profit Joint Commission and its partners, the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.

With the certification, PBMC joins St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson, St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown and Stony Brook University Medical Center as facilities that have shown a commitment to speedy treatment for stroke patients — because, as noted, every second matters.

Miller_HeadshotGot a health question or column idea? Email Carrie Miller at [email protected].

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