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May is Stroke Awareness Month. Would you be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of stroke? Do you know what to do if you suspect that you or a family member is having a stroke? We spoke with two of the world’s foremost experts, Dr. Henry Woo and Dr. David Fiorella. Both have been instrumental in developing pioneering treatments for acute stroke.

Why is stroke awareness so important?

Stroke, which can affect people of all ages and backgrounds, is the fourth-leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States behind heart disease, chronic lung disease and cancer. Fortunately, between 1998 and 2008, the stroke death rate fell 34.8 percent due to improved treatments and increased awareness of the signs. Speed of treatment is crucial. People are seeking treatment faster — and, more critically, at the right place: a healthcare facility that’s been certified as a primary stroke center. The Cerebrovascular and Stroke Center at Stony Brook, certified by The Joint Commission and the New York State Department of Health as an advanced primary stroke center, meets all of the criteria and more.

What is stroke?

There are two kinds of strokes: ischemic, in which a blockage prevents blood flow to the brain, and hemorrhagic, in which there is bleeding in or around the brain. Ischemic strokes are the most common, occurring in about 80 percent of cases in Suffolk County. Both kinds can be either acute or chronic. Acute stroke generally signifies the sudden onset of symptoms, indicating that you are indeed having a stroke. Chronic stroke indicates the presence of factors that could eventually cause a stroke, such as a blockage or an unruptured aneurysm. In these cases, if detected in time and treated, stroke can be prevented.

What are the signs of stroke?

Signs of ischemic stroke include paralysis, particularly on one side of the body, difficulty with speech or vision, overall weakness and/or total loss of consciousness. People also may experience more subtle signs, such as numbness and tingling, which may indicate what is commonly called a mini-stroke, or transient ischemic attack (TIA). Although TIAs tend to quickly resolve themselves, they are often a precursor to a major stroke, so it’s important to take them seriously and see a doctor if you suspect you have had one. The signs of a hemorrhagic stroke are more dramatic and painful: the sudden onset of a headache, often decribed as the worst headache of your life.

If you suspect you’re having a stroke, what should you do?

Get immediate help. Call 911. Alert the operator that you are having symptoms of a stroke. Ask to be taken to a primary stroke center, where appropriate and efficient protocols are in place, the latest interventions are available 24/7 and your medical team is experienced and highly trained. The Cerebrovascular and Stroke Center at Stony Brook, with its advanced primary stroke center status, offers specialized and highly trained endovascular teams; the latest equipment; leading-edge procedures, including every FDA-approved minimally invasive stroke intervention technique; high-tech diagnostics; and access to major ongoing clinical trials.

You’ve survived a stroke. Now what?

For the hundreds of Long Islanders who do survive a stroke, it’s a struggle to recover from its debilitating impact. Stony Brook’s Stroke Support Group, which is facilitated by a stroke survivor, can help. You’ll receive encouragement, feedback and inspiration from others who can relate to your situation; gain more knowledge from expert speakers; and learn about many programs and resources that can help. While we hope that you or someone you love never has to experience a stroke, it’s important to know that Suffolk County’s only academic medical center is leading the way in stroke care for thousands of patients in our community and across the country.

For more information, call (631) 444-1213 or visit neuro.stonybrookmedicine.edu

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All health and health-related information contained in this article is intended to be general and/or educational in nature and should not be used as a substitute for a visit with a healthcare professional for help, diagnosis, guidance, and treatment. The information is intended to offer only general information for individuals to discuss with their healthcare provider. It is not intended to constitute a medical diagnosis or treatment or endorsement of any particular test, treatment, procedure, service, etc. Reliance on information provided is at the user's risk. Your healthcare provider should be consulted regarding matters concerning the medical condition, treatment, and needs of you and your family. Stony Brook University/SUNY is an affirmative action, equal opportunity educator and employer.