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Sharp Health News

Anatomy of a stroke

May 10, 2017

Anatomy of a stroke

Each year, nearly 800,000 people suffer a stroke, 80 percent of which are preventable. Categorized as a disease that affects the arteries leading to and within the brain, stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S. Recent statistics show more than 5,000 people in San Diego were hospitalized for stroke in 2015.

"A stroke occurs when there's an obstruction of blood flow and oxygen to an area in the brain, which can happen because of a blockage in a blood vessel, or if a vessel bursts," explains Dr. Ran Regev, an emergency medicine doctor at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center. "The brain needs oxygen to function; if oxygen cannot reach an area in the brain, that area will become damaged and could even die in a matter of minutes. That's why every second counts when it comes to treating stroke."

With stroke, it's important to act fast and be aware of the warning signs to ensure proper treatment and the best possible outcomes. The mnemonic device "FAST" lists the warning signs of stroke:

B – Balance: Sudden loss of balance
E – Eyes: Sudden blurry or loss of vision

F – Face: Facial weakness or drooping on one side of the face or an asymmetrical smile
A – Arms: Arm or leg weakness or numbness on one side of the body
S – Speech: Altered speech, slurring and the inability to speak or find the right words
T – Time: Act fast and call 911 immediately if you suspect a stroke

If you experience or witness any of the above symptoms, it's important to act fast and call 911 right away.

Stroke treatment — it starts immediately
Surviving a stroke and minimizing long-term effects is largely dependent upon treatment and how quickly it's delivered.

Treatment depends on the type of stroke:

  • Ischemic stroke — Considered common, this type of stroke occurs when a blood vessel is blocked. Treatment focuses on removing or breaking up the clot.
  • Hemorrhagic stroke — Considered rare, this type of stroke is caused by a rupture in a blood vessel within the brain. Treatment focuses on stopping the bleeding in the brain.

"Treatment of a stroke needs to begin within 45 minutes of arrival to the emergency room," says Dr. Regev. "In our hospital, one way we treat strokes is by administering a thrombolytic medication called tPA to break up blood clots; however, a serious potential side effect of this medication is bleeding in the brain. So to minimize this risk, we thoroughly evaluate a patient before administering," he says.

80 percent of strokes are preventable
A stroke can be prevented by managing or treating conditions that can cause one, such as diabetes and atrial fibrillation (AFib), as well as avoiding certain lifestyle choices that may increase a person's risk.

"Proper diet plays a big role in preventing or lowering the risk of stroke. A good diet can potentially help prevent other conditions that can cause stroke like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes," explains Dr. Regev. "In the presence of any disease that may be a risk factor for stroke, patients should consult their primary care physician on ways to lower their risk."

For the news media: To talk with Dr. Regev about stroke during Stroke Awareness Month (May) for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

This story was updated in April 2019 to reflect the new mnemonic for the signs of stroke.

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