CHERAW, SC — Stroke is a leading cause of serious long-term disability in the United States. This condition is also not limited to the elderly. It can happen any time to any one. The good news is that nearly 80 percent of strokes are preventable.
The American Stroke Association developed the acronym FAST to help the public in identifying a stroke. If you suspect someone may be having a stroke think FAST:
F – Face — Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A – Arms — Is one arm weak or numb? If they raise both arms, does one drift downward?
S – Speech — Is their speech slurred? Can they repeat a simple sentence correctly?
T – Time — If the person shows any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately.
FAST covers the risk factors for stroke that everyone should be familiar with. But there are several symptoms that you may not be aware of that are unique to women. Some of these symptoms include: loss of consciousness or fainting, general weakness, shortness of breath, confusion or disorientation, sudden behavioral change, agitation, hallucination, nausea or vomiting, pain, seizures and hiccups.
Since these are not typical symptoms, recognizing them as signs of a stroke can create a challenge potentially delaying treatment.
Eighty-seven percent of all strokes are identified as ischemic strokes. This means that the stroke occurs as a result of an obstruction within a blood vessel that supplies blood to the brain.
“As we age, plaque builds up in the wall of our carotid arteries. The carotid arteries are located on each side of the neck and supply blood to the brain,” said Dr. Eva Rzucidlo, McLeod vascular surgeon. “The build-up of the plaque in the carotid arteries, also known as carotid artery disease, is a serious issue.
“Blood clots can form on the plaque. If one of these clots or a piece of plaque breaks loose and travels to the brain, a stroke will occur,” she continued. “A transient ischemic attack, or a mini-stroke, should serve as a warning sign that a stroke may occur in the near future. During a TIA, stroke symptoms occur but do not cause permanent damage. If this happens, patients should seek care immediately.”
There are two procedures used to treat carotid artery disease: carotid endarterectomy and carotid artery stenting. Both procedures are performed at McLeod. The team of Vascular Surgeons work with the patient to determine the most appropriate surgical treatment option.
Patients with a severe narrowing of the carotid arteries, and those who have been experiencing TIAs would likely be candidates for one of these procedures.
Prior to these procedures, a duplex ultrasound test is performed. This test uses painless ultrasound waves to show the blood vessels and measure how fast the blood is flowing. It also helps determine the location and degree of narrowing in the carotid artery.
Carotid endarterectomy is a safe form of surgical treatment to remove the plaque in the carotid arteries and help prevent a stroke. The carotid endarterectomy procedure takes about 90 minutes to perform. After surgery, patients will stay in the hospital for one to two days. The neck incision is so small that patients should not experience significant pain. In addition, patients can usually begin normal activities several weeks after the operation.
Carotid artery stenting is a minimally invasive procedure that also treats carotid artery disease. Through a small incision in the groin a catheter, a long hollow tube, is inserted into the carotid to be treated. A stent, which is a tiny metal coil, can then be inserted into the artery to push the plaque aside and improve the blood flow.
“Having the plaque surgically removed or stented will not stop it from building up again,” explained Rzucidlo. “To prevent the plaque from reoccurring patients should consider making some healthy lifestyle changes such as: eating foods low in saturated fat, cholesterol and calories, exercising regularly, especially aerobic exercise such as walking, maintaining an ideal body weight, avoiding smoking and discussing cholesterol-lowering medications with their physician.”
Dr. Eva Rzucidlo is a board certified vascular surgeon with additional vascular research fellowship training. Dr. Rzucidlo cares for patients at McLeod Vascular Associates in Florence and Cheraw.