Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States suffers a potentially debilitating stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, someone dies of a stroke every four minutes, making it one of the leading causes of death nationwide.

While preventing strokes altogether may not be possible, lowering your risk and knowing what to do if you or someone you love might be having a stroke is something everyone should learn.

“There is a genetic component to stroke which can lead to a decreased or increased incidence of stroke. There is an increase in stroke when you have a significant family history of stroke with either your siblings or your parents,” says Thomas Olmstead, DO, stroke medical director for Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Centennial.

Know your risk

Beyond stroke itself running in the family, individual or family history of hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes or high cholesterol can contribute to heightened stroke risk. Other conditions that may increase the possibility of stroke include:

  • Sickle cell disease
  • Marfan’s syndrome
  • Homocystinuria
  • Fabry disease and other conditions

“These conditions are important to inform your physician about because they may lead to clotting disorders or disorders to the vessels,” Dr. Olmstead says. “It is important to know your family history to help you and your medical care team work together to decrease stroke risk.”

According to Syeda Aleena Raza, MD, internal medicine specialist on the Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – McKinney medical staff, your routine plays a critical role in identifying risk factors early. This includes blood tests and blood pressure checks that may accompany an annual physical.

“Blood tests help identify many common health problems and chronic conditions. The tests are also essential for diagnosing and planning care for certain conditions,” Dr. Raza says. “Obtaining vitals such as blood pressure is also essential and part of a routine doctor’s appointment to screen for high blood pressure (hypertension) as elevated blood pressure can increase risk for serious health problems, such as stroke and heart attack.”

Stroke symptoms? BE FAST

Regardless of risk factors, everyone should be aware of the symptoms of a possible stroke. Remember BE FAST to spot stroke signs:

  • Balance – loss of balance
  • Eyes – blurred or double vision
  • Face – drooping
  • Arm – sudden weakness
  • Speech – slurred or loss of speech
  • Time – call 911 immediately

“These are the warning signs of a stroke, and BE FAST is an easy way to quickly identify the stroke,” says Rashedul Hasan, MD, medical director of the Comprehensive Stroke Program at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Plano.

“When a stroke happens, 1.9 million neurons die in each minute. Time is of the essence in treating a stroke patient,” he adds. “In fact, the only FDA-approved medicine in stroke cannot be used after 3-4.5 hours of symptom onset. The first step of the treatment starts with recognizing the stroke symptoms. The sooner it is recognized the earlier the treatment starts and the better the outcome is. So, it is very important for all of us to know the signs of a stroke to save our loved ones.”

Where to go?

Hospitals with stroke centers are categorized by different levels, with “Comprehensive Stroke Centers” being the highest level of care. Baylor Scott & White has three designated Comprehensive Stroke Centers spread across different geographic locations, including Baylor Scott & White – Plano, Baylor University Medical Center near downtown Dallas, and Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Temple in Central Texas.

Other facilities within the system are able to collaborate with these Centers to provide coordinated care through a “hub and spoke” model.

“The Comprehensive Center is considered a ‘hub’ and the other stroke designation centers are considered ‘spokes,'” Dr. Hasan says. “As the same group of stroke specialists provides service to all the standardized care when the stroke patient goes to any of the spoke facilities.”

If a patient doesn’t require a higher level of care, then he or she may stay at the hospital close to their home and family. But if the patient needs a higher level of care, Dr. Hasan says then the transfer process between the hub and spoke is seamless.

“We believe stroke care does not end with discharge from the hospital,” he points out. “Within this model, the patient will continue to follow-up in the stroke clinic after discharge under the care of the same stroke specialist. That is what we call comprehensive stroke care.”

For more information on stroke risk factors and symptoms, go to BSWHealth.com/Stroke