Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee recently proclaimed May as “Stroke Awareness Month” as part of a statewide call to increase awareness of stroke warning signs and improve the number of stroke patients that receive lifesaving treatment in time.
Many people in Washington die or are disabled from stroke because they do not get the appropriate medical treatment within the recommended time window, which is three hours for the most common type of stroke, according to the Washington State Department of Health.
Increasing the number of stroke patients who get timely treatment is one of the goals of Washington’s Emergency Cardiac and Stroke System. To activate the system, citizens must be more vigilant about recognizing the stroke warning signs and immediately calling 9-1-1 when they or someone else is experiencing stroke symptoms.
“Stroke is the sixth leading cause of death in Washington state and the leading cause of preventable disability for adults,” said Joe Elliott, 911 and critical care paramedic for the Sequim-based Olympic Ambulance.
“Those who survive can experience significant, costly disabilities. Calling 9-1-1 early is essential. Friends and family members may have good intentions when they take people with stroke symptoms to the hospital, but it’s much better to get emergency medical personnel on the scene as soon as possible. Lost time often leads to a worse outcome.”
An easy way to recognize stroke is to think F.A.S.T.:
FACE — Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
ARMS — Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward or not move?
SPEECH — Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Is speech slurred or hard to understand? Are they unable to speak?
TIME — Time to call 911 if you see any one of these signs. Note the time symptoms started, or when the person was last known to be normal and tell the medics.
Face droop, arm weakness and speech difficulty are the most common signs and symptoms of stroke. Additional signs and symptoms include sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body; sudden confusion or trouble understanding; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; and sudden severe headache with no known cause.
Olympic Medical Center and local Emergency Medical Services (EMS) have collaborated together, changing the way stroke patients are transported in Clallam County. Under the Washington State Emergency Cardiac and Stroke System, modeled after the state’s trauma system, standard guidelines for EMS in Clallam County are to activate a “Code Stroke” when calling in patient reports. T
his prompt activates a series of events at Olympic Medical Center allowing immediate access for patients to be taken directly to a CT scan upon arrival of the Emergency Department.
Patients can then be rapidly assessed by the physician and treated or transferred immediately to another treating hospital if necessary.
“According to a survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control, only 38 percent of respondents were aware of stroke symptoms and knew to call 9-1-1 when someone was having a stroke,” Trisha Duerr, emergency department clinical supervisor for Olympic Medical Center, said.
“In addition, patients who arrive to the emergency department within three hours of their first symptoms often have less disability three months after a stroke than those who received delayed recognition and care.
“Our county-wide ‘Code Stroke’ process has expedited care for someone suffering from stroke and has helped Olympic Medical Center and EMS in Clallam County consistently meet best-practice guidelines for stroke care collectively,” Duerr said.
“The public can help us by learning stroke symptoms and calling 9-1-1 immediately when they or someone else is experiencing these symptoms.”
Stroke Awareness Month is the American Stroke Association’s and the National Stroke Association’s call to increase awareness of stroke and to inspire citizens to learn about the signs of stroke and how to prevent a stroke.
To learn more about Washington’s Emergency Cardiac and Stroke System, visit www.doh.wa.gov/ecs.