Stroke, also called brain attack, occurs when blood flow to the brain is disrupted. Disruption in blood flow is caused when a blood clot blocks one of the vital blood vessels in the brain (ischemic stroke) or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, spilling blood into surrounding tissues (hemorrhagic stroke). If you experience stroke symptoms, call 911 immediately.
Symptoms of stroke may be sudden and include:
- Weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Confusion or difficulty speaking or understanding
- Problems with vision such as dimness or loss of vision in one or both eyes
- Dizziness or problems with balance or coordination
- Problems with movement or walking
- Severe headache with no known cause
Do not ignore any of these warning signs, even if you experience just one of them. Take action immediately, even if symptoms go away. Stroke is a time-sensitive brain emergency. Call 911 immediately.
The brain needs a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients in order to function. Even a brief interruption in blood supply can cause problems. Brain cells begin to die after just a few minutes without blood or oxygen. A loss of brain function occurs with brain cell death. This may cause trouble with movement, speech and thinking.
Some patients may experience a “warning stroke,” a transient ischemic attack (TIA). In a TIA, the blockage only temporarily stops blood flow to the brain, so no damage results. However, if you have a TIA episode, you are at much higher risk for a major stroke.
Recovery from stroke and the specific abilities affected depends on the size and location of the stroke. A small stroke may result in problems such as weakness in an arm or leg. Larger strokes may cause paralysis, loss of speech or even death.
Lehigh Valley Health Network treats the highest number of stroke patients in the region. Our Stroke Alert process starts with the emergency medical services (EMS) teams that bring stroke patients to the hospital – allowing EMS to activate resources before you even arrive at the hospital. This allows early testing and prompt evaluation and coordination of treatment by a team of emergency and neurology specialists.
How to prevent stroke
Nearly 800,000 Americans have a stroke each year, but the good news is 80 percent can be prevented by managing risk factors and making lifestyle changes.
Some primary factors to consider include:
- Cholesterol – Unhealthy cholesterol levels can lead to clogged arteries and a stroke. See your primary care provider regularly to monitor and manage your cholesterol and switch to a low-cholesterol, heart-friendly diet.
- Blood pressure – High blood pressure carries a lot of risk because it can weaken your blood vessels, possibly leading to a clogged or burst artery in your brain – a stroke.
- Diabetes – If you have diabetes, you’re twice as likely to have a stroke than someone without the disease, so it’s critical to control diabetes risk factors and work with your primary care provider to manage the disease.
- Atrial fibrillation (AFib) – If you have an irregular heartbeat known as AFib, you’re more likely to experience a stroke because blood clots can form in your heart and travel to your brain. Work with your doctor to keep your AFib in check and take prescribed medication as directed.
These are just a few stroke risk factors. If you’d like to learn more, schedule an appointment with your primary care physician.
Advanced stroke care
In October 2012, Lehigh Valley Hospital–Cedar Crest became the first stroke center in Pennsylvania, and one of the first in the United States, to earn advanced certification as a Comprehensive Stroke Center by The Joint Commission and American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. This means we offer the highest standard of care for stroke and it recognizes our expert staff and their advanced training in treating patients with complex strokes.
At Lehigh Valley Hospital–Cedar Crest, you’ll receive care from an expert team that includes:
- Neurologists with training in cerebrovascular disorders
- Neuroradiologists who are specially trained in interpretation of brain images and available 24/7
- Neurointerventional radiologists who use minimally invasive techniques to restore blood flow to the brain and treat brain aneurysms
- Neurosurgeons with training in the surgical management of stroke patients
- Neurocritical care neurologists who manage the complex care in the neuroscience intensive care unit
Lehigh Valley Hospital–Muhlenberg, Lehigh Valley Hospital–Hazleton, Lehigh Valley Hospital–Schuylkill and Lehigh Valley Hospital–Pocono are all certified Primary Stroke Centers. A Primary Stroke Center is a hospital that has developed special procedures to rapidly diagnose and treat a stroke emergency.
Home of Pennsylvania’s first mobile stroke unit
In 2019, Lehigh Valley Health Network and Cetronia Ambulance Corps jointly launched the first mobile stroke unit in the state of Pennsylvania. Specially educated crew begin assessing and treating strokes on board this ambulance-like vehicle while en route to the hospital, improving intervention time by 20-30 minutes. The unit is equipped with CT imaging equipment, medications and video and telehealth technology to provide secure, real-time consultation with vascular neurologists at the Comprehensive Stroke Center.