Doctors say the first 3 hours after experiencing the first stroke symptom is the best time to seek medical attention and to restore blood flow to the brain and to minimize or reverse brain and neurological damage. This time is the “golden window”.
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The Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center conducted a survey in which patients 45 and younger expressed doubts at visiting a hospital after experiencing their first stroke symptoms.
"Timely treatment for stroke is probably more important than for almost any other medical problem there is," said David Liebeskind, MD, professor of neurology, Director of Outpatient Stroke and Neurovascular Programs and Director of the Neurovascular Imaging Research Core at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
"There is a very limited window in which to start treatment because the brain is very sensitive to a lack of blood flow or to bleeding, and the longer patients wait, the more devastating the consequences," Liebeskind added.
Over 1,000 people across the US were asked what they would do within the first 3 hours if they experienced numbness, difficulty seeing or speaking, weakness – all common symptoms of stroke; one in three of respondents aged 45 or less they would go to the hospital for checks, while 73% said they would still wait to see if their symptoms would improve.
"That's a real problem," said Liebeskind. "We need to educate younger people about the symptoms of stroke and convince them of the urgency of the situation, because the numbers are going up."
Health experts estimate that someone develops stroke every 40 seconds within the US, meaning that about 800,000 people develop stroke every year; while studies show 53% of people aged between 18-45 leave US hospitals after experiencing stroke.
Twenty-seven-year-old Jennifer Reilly in 2007 suffered stroke symptoms without knowing it. She woke up in the middle of the night with excruciating headache. She was usually active, healthy, and not prone to headaches. But she thought nothing of this incident. She told a friend about her experience and she ended up going to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center where she was told she had experienced stroke.
Reilly was still skeptical because "I didn't have any of what I thought were the classic symptoms of a stroke, nor did I fit the classic description of a stroke patient. I was 27 and healthy."
She still experienced brief numbness in her left hand and was later diagnosed as having stroke caused by moyamoya, a rare condition where blood vessels in the brain start to narrow and thin out over time. Nearly 85% of stroke patients experience ischemic stroke which results from arteries in the brain getting blocked and unable to have oxygen.
Ischemic stroke is often linked to diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and smoking. But Liebeskind disclosed that regular exercise and a healthy diet could lower risks of developing stroke, while potential patients must avoid smoking and alcohol.
Identifying the symptoms of strokes is half winning the battle, and it is advisable to act fast by visiting a doctor if anyone experiences symptoms of stroke such as arms weakness, face dropping, difficulty speaking among others.
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"Believe it or not, it's on the order of minutes or hours when somebody has to seek medical attention," said Liebeskind. "There simply is no time to wait. It's a message that we clearly need to get to younger people more effectively."