If you don’t read any further than the first paragraphs of this column, take the advice in the headline if you are having any of these symptoms:
- Losing balance in walking
- Being unable to talk clearly
- Unable to reach over your head
- Seeing double or having other vision problems
- Feeling a sudden bad headache
Late last month Carilion Clinic advertised one of the free seminars its staff presents in order to educate the public, especially older patients, in preventing some serious ailments. Being aware that most members of my father’s family died of strokes at about the age I am now, it seemed I might benefit from the hour-long lecture Dr. Sidney Mallenbaum offered at the Raleigh Court Health and Rehab Center.
The physician is the medical director of the Primary Stroke Center of Carilion and teaches neurology at its medical school. He was educated at the University of North Carolina, with his medical education obtained at the famed McGill University for research in Montreal, Canada.
For Salemites like myself, who are much closer to Lewis-Gale Medical Center, it’s well, Mallenbaum said, to know that Carilion has the only “clot-busting” equipment in Western Virginia. Though it’s a few miles further away, getting there by ambulance could make a difference in your outcome if you have a certain kind of stroke.
The emergency medical technicians (EMTs) who answer 911 calls are being trained to know the condition which is helped most by the procedure; they are learning to take the patient to Carilion when it seems warranted, the doctor pointed out.
Let the EMT decide though. Don’t call your family doctor or try to drive to a hospital yourself.
Getting the right treatment quickly can make all the difference in whether a person with a stroke recovers with little or no disability or is left seriously disabled. Stroke, a major cause of death, especially in older people, shows up in three forms, Mallenbaum said.
The one known as “a TIA” refers to a “transient ischemic attack” in which there is a temporary relatively minor blockage of a blood vessel that passes, usually within 24 hours, and leaves no apparent damage. Such attacks, however, may be a warning sign resulting from elevated blood pressure or other cause and should be taken seriously, the speaker emphasized.
The most common of major strokes also are known as ischemic; the word means blockage of a blood vessel, Mallenbaum noted. Stabilizing blood pressure is important in preventing serious strokes. Many drugs are effective for this, but some have bad side effects.
A third type of stroke is known as hemorrhagic; it involves bleeding in the brain while the others are caused by clots or build up of a substance in blood vessels.
Whatever the kind of blockage, the sooner it’s treated the better. In recent years, it’s been found that people who have a stroke during the day with others around have a better chance of coming through with minimal brain damage than if the blockage comes on during sleep.
Can one do anything to prevent strokes especially if they run in your family? The doctor noted that the regular use of blood pressure-lowering drugs has gone a long way to extending life in people—like my aunts and an uncle—who lived disabled for several years before their deaths more than a half-century ago.
Moreover, regular exercise, keeping weight down and avoiding smoking, too much alcohol and foods that add to the buildup of deposits in the arteries are controllable factors. Certain irregularities in heartbeats can also be watched and treated with a great variety of drugs. Mallenbaum described these and offered some updates in the field in which research goes on.