Health Watch -- Recognizing Strokes

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Do you know the symptoms of a stroke? If you don't, it could affect your chances for survival.

There are powerful clot-busting medications available that help prevent damage caused by strokes, but few patients get to the hospital in time for them to work. Most strokes occur when a blood vessel leading to the brain gets blocked. That deprives the brain of blood, and body functions controlled by that part of the brain are then affected. But if the right medication is given within three hours of the onset of stroke symptoms, doctors can prevent much of the disability or death caused by stroke.

Unfortunately, doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas found last year that only 19 percent of patients who came to the emergency room at Parkland Memorial Hospital with stroke symptoms got there in time to receive this medication. Dr. Hal Unwin, a UT Southwestern neurologist, is leading a study of a drug that can be given within nine hours of a stroke, but he's having a hard time finding patients to treat. Of the stroke patients screened for the study, only 16 percent arrived in time, and none of them were eligible, some because of other medical problems.

According to the American Stroke Association, common stroke symptoms include sudden numbness in the arm, leg or face on one or both sides of the body; unexpected severe headache with no apparent cause; sudden confusion or difficulty speaking; and sudden vision problems, dizziness or lack of coordination.

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March 2004

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