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Serious Medicine. Extraordinary Care.

Know the Signs of Stroke During National Stroke Awareness Month

Lenice Hogan was watching television after just feeding her infant son, when she says she fell flat on her face. At age 39, Hogan never dreamed she was having a stroke, but knew something was terribly wrong as she had lost use of her left leg. After Hogan was transferred to The Nebraska Medical Center for care, doctors determined she had a rare medical condition that may have caused her stroke.

Four years ago is when Hogan had her stroke, the date was April 16, 2005. Today, Hogan is doing all she can to help educate others about stroke. "I am lucky and blessed to be able to raise my three boys," said Hogan. "I want others to know the signs of stroke so they too can get early treatment to prevent side effects of stroke."

May is National Stroke Awareness Month - a good time to learn stroke risk factors and understand the warning signs of a stroke. Stroke is the third leading cause of death and the number one cause of disability in adults with 750,000 new strokes occurring each year in the United States. It is estimated that in a few decades, stroke will be the leading cause of death worldwide. Because of his race, Watkins knew he was at a greater risk for stroke.

The stroke team at The Nebraska Medical Center is poised to help patients seven days a week, 24 hours a day. The Nebraska Medical Center is home to Nebraska's first, nationally certified stroke center dedicated to the prevention and management of stroke. The stroke center has received the "Gold Seal of Approval" from the Joint Commission. "Eighty percent of strokes are preventable," said Pierre Fayad, MD, medical director of the stroke center at The Nebraska Medical Center and Reynolds Centennial Professor and Chairman of Neurological Sciences at UNMC.

Risk factors for stroke include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, atrial fibrillation and smoking. "If stroke or the other risk factors run in your family, there's a higher chance you could have one too. By talking to your doctor and taking preventative measures, you'll have a much better chance of avoiding a stroke," said Dr. Fayad.

A stroke is a "brain attack" that occurs from a sudden interruption of blood supply to the brain or when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures, leaking blood into the spaces surrounding the brain cells. There are two types of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic. Ischemic strokes are caused by blood clots that form and block blood flow to the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes are caused when a blood vessel ruptures. Brain cells die when they no longer receive oxygen and nutrients from the blood or when they are damaged by sudden bleeding into or around the brain resulting in impaired neurological functions.

"Timely treatment can save these cells by limiting or reversing brain damage," said Dr. Fayad.

A little over a decade ago, the first proven treatment to reverse the damage from stroke was approved. For it to be effective, the clot busting drug t-PA needs to be started within three hours of the onset of symptoms. "Therefore, it's critical to remember that stroke is a medical emergency and to respond immediately," said Dr. Fayad. "Unfortunately, most patients arrive 12 to 24 hours after the first stroke symptom, too late to receive t-PA treatment." Stroke patients who receive t-PA have a 30-percent improved chance of being cured from their stroke and deficits. Currently less than 3-percent of stroke patients get t-PA, though approximately 50-percent would be eligible.

Symptoms of a stroke may include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, loss of balance or coordination
  • Extremely severe headaches with no other known cause

Lenice Hogan had an amazing recovery from her stroke. Last November, she ran a marathon to promote awareness of stroke. You can watch Lenice's story on The Nebraska Medical Center YouTube channel.