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"Time Is Brain" And Other Things To Know About Strokes

When it comes to strokes, time is brain.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Dr. Ralph Sacco has his own way of thinking about time:

“Time is brain,” says Sacco, a neurologist at the University of Miami and chair of a registry that collects hospital data on what happens to stroke patients in Florida and Puerto Rico.

During a stroke, he says, “every minute, millions of brain cells die and we can't salvage them. You need to get urgent attention ... you need to get to a stroke center.”

For most strokes, the window for treatment is six hours. Depending on the kind of stroke, treatment can be effective within 24 hours.

Sacco and other researchers have found that African Americans and Hispanics are twice as likely to die from strokes as their peers. Part of the reason for that, he says, is that these groups tend to have higher rates of risk factors like high blood pressure. And they’re less likely to recognize early warning signs of stroke. But even once they make it to the hospital, it takes longer to receive treatment.

Sacco says he doesn’t know what’s behind that treatment time lag, but he hopes more data will help reduce disparities.

To that end, Sacco and his colleagues have announced a new regional collaboration to collect and share data about strokes at hospitals in Broward and Palm Beach Counties.

“We want to give people the access to the data so they can then think about best practices in their own region to improve stroke for the for the citizens of their county,” he says.

Sacco spoke with Health News Florida about his work. Here are three things to know about strokes:

What is a stroke?

“A stroke is basically almost like a heart attack in the brain. There are two major types of stroke: either bleeding strokes or strokes that are caused by blockages of arteries in the brain. So the brain gets injured due to a blood vessel getting blocked or bursting. And then when the brain gets injured, you develop neurological symptoms.”

Learn the signs with this acronym: F.A.S.T.

“F is for ‘face.’ If one side of your face is drooping.

A is for ‘arm.’ If your arm is drooping, or there's weakness on one side of the body.

S is for ‘speech.’ If you’re having trouble getting words out, slurred speech, trouble understanding what others are saying.

And T is for ‘time.’ If you have any of these early warning signs we say call 911 urgently.”

The numbers for preventing stroke:

“Seven key factors may increase your risk of stroke. Three of them are numbers: blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose—blood sugar or diabetes. Those things can increase the risk of stroke.

And four of them are behaviors: not smoking, physical activity, obesity—being overweight—and following an American Heart Association diet.”

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Sammy Mack
Public radio. Public health. Public policy.