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Minutes Matter: BE FAST to Spot a Stroke

Published on May 17, 2021

A stroke affects around 795,000 people in the United States each year. In fact, stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death among adults. Among survivors, stroke is the nation’s leading cause of long-term disability.

Unfortunately, someone suffers a stroke every 40 seconds. And here in northern Michigan, our rate of stroke is higher than the national average. That’s why recognizing the signs of stroke and seeking treatment as quickly as possible is so important.

The good news? Strokes can be prevented. National Stroke Awareness Month is observed each May to promote healthy behaviors and to help reduce the number of strokes that occur. There's no better time for a quick primer on different types of stroke, the symptoms to look for, and when to call 9-1-1. After all, your quick action could save a life.

What is a Stroke?

A stroke is a medical emergency from a lack of oxygen to the brain. Oxygen is required for our brain cells (also called “neurons”) to function and survive. And when neurons stop functioning, our speech, vision, and movement may also be lost.

“For every one minute without oxygen we lose 1.9 million brain neurons,” said Kersti Bruining, MD, Neurologist and Munson Medical Center Stroke Program Medical Director. “One hour without oxygen is the same as 3.6 years of normal brain aging. So during a stroke, you can see why every minute counts.”

There are two main types of stroke to know:

  • Ischemic strokes are caused by the blockage of a blood vessel or an artery that carries blood to the brain. Affected neurons and tissues will start to die within minutes from lack of oxygen and nutrients. Around 87% of strokes are ischemic.
  • Hemorrhagic strokes are caused by a bleeding artery or blood vessel. When an artery bleeds into the brain, cells and tissues don't get oxygen and nutrients. Pressure also builds in surrounding tissues causing irritation and swelling. This can lead to more brain damage.

Though not technically a stroke, you should also be aware of what’s known as a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA). During a TIA, individuals have painless symptoms that are similar to a stroke. These usually last only a few minutes and don’t cause permanent damage. However, they can be a warning sign of future strokes. A person who suffers a TIA is 9.5 times more likely to experience a stroke in his or her lifetime.

How to Recognize A Stroke

Understanding the signs and symptoms of stroke will help you or a loved one take quick action when you suspect a stroke is happening. An easy way to remember the symptoms of stroke is with the acronym BE FAST:

  • B Balance: Problems maintaining balance
  • E Eyes: Lost or double vision
  • F Face: Drooping face on one side
  • A Arm: Weakness in one or both arms
  • S Speech: Difficulty speaking
  • T Time: A reminder to call 9-1-1 right away

Remember that minutes matter no matter what type of stroke it may be. BE FAST and call 9-1-1 immediately. Do not delay and do not drive to the hospital. EMS personnel can perform a preliminary exam in the ambulance and provide key information to doctors during a trip to the hospital. This ensures the emergency team is ready to act quickly when the patient arrives.

If you suspect someone is having a stroke, be sure to make note of the time symptoms first started so you can help the stroke team with as much information as possible.

Interventional Stroke Treatment

The most common way to treat ischemic strokes is a medication called alteplase (also known as TPA). This clot-busting drug is typically given to patients through an IV to dissolve the blockage. However, TPA’s use is limited to 4 ½ hours after the onset of stroke symptoms.

Thankfully, there’s another way to care for strokes in northern Michigan that helps to save time and increase the chance for positive patient outcomes.

In September 2020, the stroke team led by neurosurgeon Dr. Gary Rajah, MD, Director of Munson Healthcare's Endovascular Stroke Program, performed the first thrombectomy procedure in Munson Medical Center’s history. In the weeks and months following, Munson Healthcare has been providing this type of minimally-invasive endovascular care to grateful patients throughout the region.

Brain surgeons performing endovascular stroke intervention will insert a small catheter through the patient’s groin or wrist and then use biplane imaging technology and microscopic surgical instruments to find and remove a blockage. Munson Healthcare’s state-of-the-art ARTIS Icono Biplane Angiography System is one of only a few in the entire nation and features two rotating 3-D cameras. This allows the surgical team to track surgical instruments and blood flow in real time.

Munson Healthcare hospitals in Cadillac, Charlevoix, Gaylord, Grayling, Frankfort, Kalkaska, Manistee, and Traverse City have processes in place to quickly diagnose and evaluate a stroke. These locations and any emergency room in northern Michigan can transfer stroke patients to Munson Medical Center when life-saving endovascular care is required.

Preventing a Stroke

Thankfully 80% of strokes can be prevented through diet and other healthy behaviors. These include managing high blood pressure, limiting salt and sodium, and maintaining a healthy weight. Other actions that can help lower your risk of stroke include:

  • Controlling cholesterol
  • Getting plenty of physical activity
  • Healthy eating
  • Losing excess weight
  • Managing blood sugar
  • Quitting tobacco and unhealthy alcohol use
  • Avoiding COVID-19 (which can increase risk among infected individuals)

Best-case scenario? You never need stroke care. The most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of stroke is to have a conversation with your family doctor or primary care provider. He or she knows your medical history better than anyone and can recommend a specific plan to lower your odds of having a stroke.

Stroke Risk Evaluator

Anyone can have a stroke no matter your age, race, or gender. Is your chance of having a stroke higher than average? Take our online evaluator at to see if you’re at risk.

Stroke Risk Evaluator