Q&A with Mark Alberts, M.D. - What You Should Know About Stroke

Stroke is a common and serious disease. Each year in the United States, almost 800,000 people suffer from a new or recurrent stroke, and about 130,000 die from its effects. In conjunction with National Stroke Awareness Month, this month a UT Southwestern Medical Center stroke expert answers some commonly asked questions about this devastating disease.

Mark Alberts, M.D., is the Vice-Chair for Clinical Affairs in the Department of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics at UT Southwestern. He was one of the authors that set national stroke certification guidelines for stroke centers, and also a member of the team that led to UT Southwestern’s recent certification by The Joint Commission as an Advanced Comprehensive Stroke Center, the first and only such center in North Texas.

What is a stroke?

There are two major types of strokes. An ischemic stroke, the most common type, occurs when a blood vessel in or around the brain gets blocked or occluded. This starves brain cells of needed blood, oxygen, and sugar, which causes those cells to rapidly die. The other type, a hemorrhagic stroke, occurs when a blood vessel in or around the brain ruptures, causing a blood clot to form and compress or squeeze brain tissue.

What are common symptoms of a stroke?

Typical stroke symptoms include:

  • Fairly rapid onset of weakness or numbness affecting one side of the body;
  • Trouble speaking or understanding what is being said
  • Sudden blindness in one or both eyes
  • Sudden and severe vertigo
  • Trouble with walking, balance, and coordination
  • A new, severe headache

What should you do if you or someone else develops stroke symptoms?

  • First, make sure the patient is safe, breathing properly, and has a pulse.
  • Then call 911 and have the patient taken to the nearest stroke center hospital. Time is of the essence. Acute therapies such as the clot-busting drug tPA are an option, but to be effective this drug must be given within a few hours of stroke onset. In some cases, endovascular specialists can insert a special device into the brain and pull the clot out.
  • These treatments must be used within a few hours of stroke onset, therefore it is critical to note when symptoms first appeared. For patients with a hemorrhagic stroke, rapid neurological treatment may be life-saving.

What stroke treatment expertise does UT Southwestern offer?

UT Southwestern’s Robert D. Rogers Advanced Comprehensive Stroke Center is not only the first and only Joint Commission-certified Advanced Comprehensive Stroke Center in North Texas but only the second in Texas. Our highly trained stroke care teams include neurologists, neurosurgeons, neuroimaging specialists, stroke rehabilitation specialists, and emergency medicine physicians, along with others who have ready access to technology and medications that can limit damage during or after a stroke.

At UT Southwestern, stroke-prevention procedures involve the use of special lasers to connect arteries without stopping blood flow to the brain, as well as a special stent (a thin tubular mesh) designed specifically for blood vessels in the brain to prevent further strokes. Specialized equipment includes a CT scanner that creates 3-D images of an organ in real time, allowing physicians to quickly diagnose strokes and heart attacks.

Can I recover after a stroke?

Many patients have good recovery after a stroke. The first step is to minimize the initial damage and prevent any further complications. Then, it is important to begin rehabilitation efforts as soon as possible once the patient is medically stable. Certain medications and treatments can enhance recovery, which are begun as soon as possible. A team of therapists and other health care providers address the physical, psychological, nutritional, and social needs of our patients to enhance their recovery.

How can I prevent a stroke?

Many strokes can be prevented by taking a few simple steps.

  • First of all, see your physician for a checkup to identify your stroke risk factors. Common risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, heart disease, smoking, and obesity. Treat these risk factors with lifestyle modifications and, if needed, specific medications.
  • Adopting a healthy lifestyle is an important step. Eating healthy, exercising, and stopping smoking can all reduce the risk of a stroke.
  • Even with proper medications and lifestyle changes, some patients may require surgery or a stent to prevent a stroke. UT Southwestern has specialists in all of these areas who can advise patients about the proper treatments, and perform them if needed.

Learn more about the Robert D. Rogers Advanced Comprehensive Stroke Center and our team of stroke experts, or to schedule an appointment call 214-645-8800.