by Ann Kay Logarbo, MD, FAAP, Medical Director, Ochsner Health Plan
As we age, we are more likely to encounter specific medical conditions unique to older individuals. Studies demonstrate that the longer we live, the greater the likelihood of developing some form of cancer, which is why preventative screening offered by Ochsner Health Plan is so important. Two other frightening conditions that are more likely to occur within the Medicare population are myocardial infarctions (heart attack) and cerebrovascular accidents (stroke). Knowing the early warning signs are critical for seeking immediate care, improving outcomes, and saving lives.
What is a stroke?
In general, there are two types of strokes:
- Hemorrhagic– these account for about 13% of strokes and are caused by weakened blood vessels that rupture and hemorrhage (bleed) into the brain.
- Ischemic – these account for about 87% of strokes and are caused by the blockage of blood flow in the brain. This can occur from atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries from fatty deposits in the vessel) when a piece of this fatty deposit breaks off and blocks blood flow (ischemia means decrease in blood flow).
What are the signs and symptoms of stroke?
Both types of strokes are medical emergencies and require immediate medical attention. The early warnings of a stroke produce distinct signs and symptoms that can be recognized by remembering these four letters of this important acronym: F.A.S.T. Here’s what the four letters stand for:
F = Facial Droop – A stroke can cause a visible droop in facial muscles on one side. If you or the someone impacted has difficulty raising their eyebrows and/or smiling this could be a warning sign.
A = Arm Weakness– If you or the person impacted has difficulty raising their arms to the shoulder level and cannot resist pushing the arm down, that weakness might also be a sign of stroke.
S = Speech – The slurring of speech or inability to repeat words spoken to the person affected might also be a sign of stroke.
T = Time – Most importantly, TIME is crucial if you believe you or someone you are with is having a stroke. Dial 9-1-1 immediately!
Here are some additional signs and symptoms of a stroke:
- trouble with vision
- headache with vomiting
- metallic taste in mouth
The treatment of a stroke depends upon on the type of stroke, which is why early recognition and treatment are so important.
What is a TIA?
A TIA (transient ischemic attack) is sometimes called a “mini-stroke”. It has the same signs and symptoms of a stroke but resolves within 24 hours. These are more common in males over the age of 55, and especially in patients with sickle cell disease. They require the same urgent attention as does a stroke for the best outcome.
Know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack.
Just like strokes, heart attacks require urgent medical treatment. If you think you or someone you know is having a heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately. Unfortunately, heart attacks are common in the U.S with over 3 million cases each year. Symptoms of a heart attack vary in severity and can be mild, such as nausea and slight chest discomfort or severe, with crushing chest pain.
Those of us with hypertension (high blood pressure), atherosclerosis (coronary artery disease) and diabetes are more prone to heart attacks. Obesity, smoking and a strong family history of heart disease make our risks greater.
The following signs and symptoms should alert you to the possibility of a heart attack and require immediate attention:
- pressure or tightness in the chest
- shortness of breath with exertion, such as climbing stairs, or at rest
- excessive sweating
- pain in the arm (especially the left arm), jaw, back or in the neck area
- nausea and dizziness
Sometimes older adults may only experience mild chest discomfort and fatigue. This mild discomfort may be ignored as GI (gastrointestinal) distress but requires attention.
Early medical attention for heart attack is extremely important as the sooner treatments begin, the better chance of saving heart muscle. Treatments may include medication, cardiac stenting or even bypass surgery, depending on the individual situation.
When in doubt, DIAL 9-1-1!
What matters most when you suspect that you or someone you are with you is having a heart attack or a stroke is to get to the emergency room as quickly and safely as possible. These emergency conditions may require rapid or advanced treatments (such as surgery) that are only available in a hospital setting. And, should the need arise, Ochsner Health Plan members have the special benefit of being able to access any urgent care or emergency room anywhere in the world.
Remember, if symptoms lead you to suspect a stroke or a heart attack, calling 9-1-1 for an ambulance is always the right decision. This is because paramedics are trained to deliver life-saving treatment on the way to the hospital.
The Ochsner Health Plan provider network includes a large panel of emergency physicians as well as board-certified cardiologists, neurologists, cardiovascular surgeons, and neurosurgeons for the treatment of heart attacks and strokes.