Steamboat Springs A Routt County woman we'll call Patricia was recently talking to a friend at work when the room seemed to darken. Suddenly Patricia found she couldn't speak the right words; everything that came out of her mouth was gibberish. She tried to slow down but still couldn't speak clearly.
Alarmed, the friend offered to call Patricia's husband, but Patricia couldn't remember her own phone number. She was pretty sure that she was having a stroke, and she knew she needed medical help. Because Patricia's vision and ability to articulate returned to normal within a few minutes, her episode fit into the category of transient ischemic attack, or TIA. Her mini-stroke occurred when a clot temporarily blocked or reduced blood flow to a portion of her brain.
There are two types of stroke, both of which damage brain tissue. An ischemic stroke is most commonly caused by an obstruction, such as a blood clot, that blocks normal blood flow to the brain. A hemorrhagic stroke is a bleeding into the brain, usually due to an aneurysm or high blood pressure.
Effective medical treatment relies on a speedy diagnosis of the cause of a stroke. The American Stroke Association estimates that every 53 seconds, someone in America has a stroke. Of the 600,000 who suffer a stroke this year, about 160,000 will die. Many more will live with permanently diminished quality of life due to physical, mental and emotional changes. Each side of the brain controls the opposite side of the body. Thus a stroke that damages the right side of the brain can cause weakness or paralysis of the left side of the body. Memory loss and behavioral changes commonly result from stroke. Vision, speech and language can also be adversely affected.
Patricia was lucky to get a warning signal, and she is advocating for her own health by seeking definitive answers. "I knew I didn't have hypertension or high cholesterol, and I have never smoked," she said. "I didn't have any of the highest risk factors, including age or family history."
She has seen four physicians and undergone a variety of tests to learn that she has an unusually high clotting factor in her blood. She probably will be on blood-thinning medication for the rest of her life.
Patricia feels it is important for everyone, regardless of age or known risk factors, to know the signs of stroke. If any of these symptoms attack suddenly, call 911 immediately:
Confusion; trouble speaking or understanding.
Numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on just one side of the body.
Difficulty seeing in one or both eyes.
Dizziness; loss of balance or coordination; difficulty walking.
Severe headache with no known cause.
For more information about stroke, check out the free materials at the Community Health Resource Center at Yampa Valley Medical Center.
Christine McKelvie is public relations director of Yampa Valley Medical Center. She is personally familiar with the devastating effect stroke can have on an entire family.