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Ask the Expert: What are the signs and symptoms of a stroke?

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Ask the Expert: What are the signs and symptoms of a stroke?

Stroke is the leading cause of disability in the United States. A stroke occurs when a vessel in the brain ruptures or a clot breaks loose. According to UnityPoint Health Emergency Department Medical Director, Ryan Sundermann, MD,  there are two types of strokes. 

Two Types of Stroke

“The most common stroke is an ischemic stroke,” Dr. Sundermann says. “It occurs when calcium and cholesterol plaque grow on the inside of a blood vessel and break loose. The body tries to heal by forming a blood clot, so that blood clot fills the vessel and blood can’t pass through and get to where it needs to go. The tissue on the inside begins to die, and that’s what causes a stroke.”

The other type of stroke is a hemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when a blood vessel leaks for various reasons and bleeds into the surrounding brain tissue.

“Both strokes cause poor blood flow to the brain, and therefore, the brain cannot operate normally. It’s a lot like when you fall asleep on your arm and cut off the blood supply and you can’t move your arm properly because it wasn’t getting blood. It’s basically the same thing that happens with a stroke except it’s permanent,” Dr. Sundermann says.

Take Action Quickly

It’s important to get to a UnityPoint Health Emergency Department right away if you think you or someone you know is experiencing a stroke.

“There is a window of about three hours from the onset of a stroke where health care providers can give a drug called tPA, which stands for tissue plasminogen activator. It helps break down blood clots. Regardless of the amount of time that has passed, individuals should get to the hospital and let providers decide when the stroke started and whether the medicine can be given. The best chance of survival and lessening the impact from a stroke is to seek medical care as soon as possible,” Dr. Sundermann says.

Ways to Avoid a Stroke

An important note is strokes are preventable. Take these steps to decrease your risk.

If you believe you or someone you know is experiencing a stroke, call 911 and go to a UnityPoint Health hospital Emergency Department immediately.

Act FAST to Spot a Stroke

  • Face. Does one side of the face droop?
  • Arm. Is one arm weak or numb?
  • Speech. Is speech slurred?
  • Time. If an individual has any of these symptoms, time is critical, call 911.