Stroke risk increases ‘significantly’ during holiday season, doctors report
Doctors at the Cedars-Sinai Department of Neurology report a significant increase in strokes during the holiday season, especially on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
Dr. Patrick D. Lyden, chair of the Cedars-Sinai Department of Neurology, said the holidays come with an increased risk of strokes, one of the leading causes of death and disability in the United States. In fact, he said the number of stroke cases treated at Cedars-Sinai rises from 80 to 100 cases per month during the winter months.
Lyden attributed the annual surge to holiday stress, sleep deprivation, dehydration, smoking, overindulging and seasonal colds and influenza, as well as changes in barometric pressure and lower temperatures.
“Holiday strokes can be an unexpected and even fatal problem because they often arrive with little warning,” the doctor said. “The good news, however, is that with advanced tools and technology available to us, we may prevent life-threatening complications and even reverse the effects of a stroke if we administer treatment within six hours.”
Stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death in the country and a leading cause of disability, according to the American Stroke Association. To recognize symptoms, experts recommend memorizing the acronym “FAST.” FAST stands for: Face (drooping of the face); Arm (arm weakness); Speech (slurred speech); and Time (every second counts, so call 911 immediately).
“Studies show that 80 percent of strokes can be prevented,” Lyden said. “But if it occurs, the key is calling 911 … Every minute a stroke is untreated, the average patient loses about 1.9 million brain cells.”
To reduce the risk of stroke, Lyden recommended that people reduce their stress levels, eat and drink in moderation, be vigilant about taking prescribed medications, exercise, stop smoking and get enough rest.
The NIH Stroke Scale
Medical professionals and even the public have been trained to recognize basic signs of stroke. These include three features of stroke: slurred speech, drooping of one outstretched arm, and drooping of one side of the face when attempting to smile. When one of these signs is present it’s a fairly sensitive indicator of stroke. When all three are present, sensitivity for stroke is approximately 90%. However, when evaluating patients for inclusion in stroke protocols and prior to fibrinolytic stroke treatments, medical professionals use a slightly more sophisticated series of questions. They often use the NIH stroke scale.
The NIH offers training and certification in the administration and scoring of the stroke scale. An overview of the scale is listed below.
The stroke scale items should be presented in order and the score should be reported after each numbered category has been assessed. The score should be based on the patient’s actual performance and what is witnessed by the examiner. It should not be a reflection of what the examiner thinks the patient is able to do. Remember, the patient could be experiencing an acute stroke, so time is of the essence. The examiner should work quickly. On the other hand, the patient should not be coached or aided by anyone, including the examiner. If the patient cannot perform one of the items, indicate the corresponding score, and move onto the next item.
Free diagnosis of stroke using National Institutes of Health (NIH) Stroke Scale. Please click here to do the test Right Now.
Most people receive a score 0 after taking the NIH stroke scale. Scores as low as one to four could indicate a mild stroke. The highest possible score is 42 which would obviously be consistent with a profound stroke. The NIH stroke scale can be administered in less than 10 minutes in skilled hands. It provides excellent baseline for stroke treatment assessment and can be used for prognosis.
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The NIH stoke scale sourced from ACLS Medical Training. Follow the link and test your stoke levels.