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Matt SowellStroke is the leading cause of long-term disability and fifth cause of death. It effects 800,000 Americans and their families every year, according the Centers for Disease Control. Recog­nizing the signs of stroke, seeking immediate medical attention with the onset of symptoms, and getting the right level care are key factors effecting patient outcomes.

Signs of Stroke

High blood pressure, smoking and obesity are all risk factors of stroke.

Stroke symptoms include facial drooping, numbness or weakness on one side of the body (especially an arm), slurred speech, trouble speaking, dizziness, severe headache and confusion.

Strokes usually happen when the brain is deprived of oxygen because an artery becomes blocked or bursts. When this happens, the tissue deprived of oxygen starts to die quickly and the brain becomes perma­nently injured. The phrase, “Time is brain,” rings true when it comes to treating stroke victims. The longer it takes for blood to be restored to the brain, the more signif­icant the brain damage.

Types of Stroke

There are two types of strokes. Ischemic are the most common. They happen when a clot forms in the arteries from plaque build up or a clot from another part of the body travels to the brain, causing a blockage.

Less frequent are hemor­rhagic strokes that happen when a weakened blood vessels ruptures and bleeds into the brain.

Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIA’s) are “mini strokes” caused by a temporary inter­ruption of blood to the brain. A TIA is known as a warning stroke. When a patient has a TIA, even if he or she feels normal a few minutes later, it’s imper­ative to immedi­ately be taken to a stroke center because if these condi­tions are left untreated, a life-altering stroke could happen, usually with the next 48 hours.

Clot Busters

An effective medication for stroke patients is the clot busting drug, tPA. It restores blood flow to the brain by dissolving clots and reduces the damaging effects of stroke. However, it must be given as early as possible after the onset of symptoms. Once 4 ½ hours have passed after a stroke, tPA is no longer considered safe to give intra­venously. tPA, and other treat­ments that restore blood flow to the brain and prevent future strokes are more effective the sooner they begin. Without prompt treatment, many people suffering an acute stroke will die or become perma­nently disabled.

Have an Advocate

It’s key for an advocate to be with a stroke patient while being evaluated. If the stroke patient is unable to do so, a knowl­edgeable advocate can provide the medical team with valuable infor­mation about the patient’s stroke symptoms, when they began, normal functioning levels, medical history and medica­tions. Advocates must insist on prompt stroke care because when it comes to stroke, time lost is brain lost.

Where to Seek Treatment

There are two levels of certified stroke centers: Compre­hensive Stroke Centers and Primary Stroke Centers. Compre­hensive Stroke Centers offer the most advanced treat­ments for stroke, including endovas­cular inter­ven­tions that physi­cally remove a clot causing a stroke. While Primary Stroke Centers offer intra­venous tPA, they generally do not offer the advanced treat­ments, which have proven to be far more effective. That is why it’s imper­ative to be taken to a Compre­hensive Stroke Center at the first warning signs of stroke.

Matt Sowell is a Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer. His practice focuses on medical malpractice including repre­senting victims of stroke. He is a national leader in stroke litigation and was the founding chairman of the Stroke Litigation Group for the American Associ­ation for Justice, the nation’s largest organi­zation of trial attorneys. You may reach him at (904) 722‑2228 or sowell@terrellhogan.com.