St. Jude’s Advanced Comprehensive Stroke Center is Ready to Treat
Stroke Victims Fast
Every year 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke, according
to the Centers for Disease Control, and nearly 130,000 Americans die from a stroke.
Johnson Moon, MD, had his way, we would all recognize the signs of stroke as readily as
we do the signs of a heart attack, and we’d treat it just as urgently
– with an immediate call to 911.
Getting treatment for a stroke fast is critical to recovery, says Dr. Moon,
a board-certified neurologist and the medical director for the stroke
St. Jude Medical Center, an Advanced Comprehensive Stroke Center – one of only ten hospitals
in California to have earned this prestigious designation.
Most strokes are the type called ischemic – when a blood clot forms
in a blood vessel in the brain. “A blockage causes cells in the
brain to starve for blood, which decreases their function,” says
Dr. Moon. “This causes stroke symptoms, and the longer the cells
are starved for blood, the smaller the chances that the patient will recover
A powerful medication given to a person having a stroke is called TPA (tissue
plasminogen activator). “It helps break down the clot and improves
outcomes,” says Dr. Moon. Patients meeting the criteria who receive
this medicine within four hours of showing stroke symptoms will have much
improved chances of recovery.
Strokes can result in long-term disability, which is why recognizing the
symptoms – in yourself or in someone else – and then getting
treatment quickly, is so important. To help people remember the symptoms,
the American Stroke Association came up with the acronym FACT.
Symptoms to watch for
“F” stands for sudden face droopiness on one side, says Dr.
Moon. “A” stands for arm weakness or numbness. A standard
check for a possible stroke is to ask the patient to lift both arms to
equal height to see if one arm hangs lower. “S” stands for
speech abnormalities – garbled or words or an inability to speak.
And “T” stands for treatment, the reminder that fast treatment
makes a big difference in outcome.
“If you suddenly feel that something is not right,” says Dr.
Moon, “if you suddenly have poor balance or are seeing double or
can’t see at all, these are signs of a possible stroke.”
Upon arriving at an emergency department, patients are assessed, and if
it is determined that they are having a stroke, they will receive a head
CT scan, and possibly 3-D advanced imaging that will create images of
blood vessels in the brain. “One exciting new treatment that interrupts
the stroke is one in which the neurointerventionalist inserts a catheter
in the groin that goes up to the brain and extracts the clot,” says Dr. Moon.
Another kind of stroke, called hemorrhagic, happens when a blood vessel
ruptures and blood leaks into the brain. Though the symptoms are similar,
the treatments in this case aim to stop the bleeding and minimize damage
from the hemorrhage.
The advantage of reaching out to a 24-hour comprehensive stroke center
is clear: immediate diagnosis and treatment by trained experts. “From
emergency department to rehabilitation, we offer a superior, multi-disciplinary
care program,” says Dr. Moon. “Our doctors, surgeons, technologists,
nurses and therapists are especially trained in stroke care.”
Who has strokes?
Contrary to common belief, anyone of any age can have a stroke, according
to Dr. Moon, even children and teenagers. It is true that the older the
person, the higher the risk of stroke. “The average age of a patient
with their first stroke is in the 60s to 70s,” he says.
Other risk factors that are not in our control include genetics, being
African American, Hispanic and/or being female. These groups face a higher
risk of strokes.
Modifiable risk factors, as Dr. Moon calls them, are the ones to focus
on. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes and obesity
are all factors that can be changed to lower stroke risk.
And don’t forget exercise. “Regular exercise has been shown,
time and time again, to drop stroke risk,” he says.
The good news
Awareness about stroke and treatment might be paying off. Patients who
have a stroke are doing better than in the past, says Dr. Moon. “And
what’s really exciting is that mortality from stroke has gone down
significantly. It used to be the No. 3 leading cause of death in the United
States, and now it’s No. 5. That’s why it’s so crucial
to get help early.”
(This story originally appeared in OC Catholic, July, 2015)